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Despite State Concerns, ND Residents Urged to Explore ACA Enrollment

Mike Moen

BISMARCK, N.D. -- The head of North Dakota's insurance department has long opposed the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

But with a special enrollment period under way, state residents facing more struggles because of the pandemic still are encouraged to seek out the program.

The option to sign up for coverage under the ACA usually is open in November and December. But at the urging of consumer advocates, President Joe Biden authorized a new enrollment period, which started this week and goes until mid-May.

Jon Godfread, North Dakota Insurance Commissioner, said the extended window could be a good safety net for residents who suddenly are without a job and the health coverage that goes along with it.

aca, affordable care act. Chalkboard on a wooden background.

"North Dakota's been able to weather the storm a little bit better than some other states," Godfread asserted. "But that doesn't mean that there hasn't been some changes and shifting of people's employment status and what they're doing."

He said that's why those lacking coverage right now should visit the healthcare.gov website to see if it can help.

North Dakota is one of 36 states opting for the federally run exchange, and not a state marketplace.

In 2018, Godfread backed a multi-state lawsuit seeking to overturn the law, citing the cost impact on those who don't qualify for a subsidy. But supporters said the law still benefits thousands of state residents who do meet requirements.

Insurers are already prohibited from using pre-existing conditions as a reason to deny coverage or charge more under the federal Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, which was approved under President Barack Obama in 2010.

Godfread contended each state's needs are different, while noting the ACA hasn't moved the needle on lowering North Dakota's uninsured rate of 8% to 10%. But he acknowledged there have been some benefits over the course of the law's existence.

"It has opened up some opportunities for some lower-income individuals through our Medicaid expansion, as well as some of the subsidies through the individual marketplace," Godfread observed.

US President Joe Biden prepares to sign  executive orders on affordable healthcare in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, on January 28, 2021. - The orders include reopening enrollment in the federal Affordable Care Act. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 0 ORIG FILE ID: AFP_8ZQ8T3.jpg

But he noted small-business owners, farmers and ranchers have had to deal with higher rates.

North Dakota is one of the five states with the fewest Affordable Care Act enrollees, at just above 21,000.

K. William Boyer is the Managing Editor of the Devils Lake News Journal. He can be reached at kboyer@gannett.com, or by phone at (701) 662-2127.  

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