For people who’ve been without health insurance during the pandemic, relief is in sight.
In January, President Joe Biden signed an executive order to open up the federal health insurance marketplace for three months as of Monday so uninsured people can buy a plan and those who want to change their marketplace coverage can do so.
Consumer advocates applauded the directive. Since 2016, the number of Americans without health insurance has been on the rise, reaching 30 million in 2019. The economic upheaval caused by the novel coronavirus has made a bad situation worse, throwing millions off their insurance plans.
The move is in stark contrast to the Trump administration’s approach. As covid-19 took hold last spring and the economy imploded, health experts pleaded with the Trump administration to open up the federal marketplace so people could buy insurance to protect themselves during the worst public health emergency in a century. The administration declined, noting that people who suddenly found themselves without coverage because they lost their jobs were able to sign up on the marketplace under ordinary rules. They also cited concerns that sick people who had resisted buying insurance before would buy coverage and drive up premiums.
The Biden administration is promising to spend $50 million on outreach and education to get the word out about the new special enrollment period. That’s critical, experts said. Although the number of people signing up for Affordable Care Act plans has generally remained robust, the number of new consumers enrolling in the federal marketplace has dropped every year since 2016, according to KFF, corresponding to funding cuts in marketing and outreach. (KHN is an editorially independent program of KFF.)
“There are a lot of uninsured people who even before covid were eligible for either hefty marketplace subsidies or for Medicaid and not aware of it,” said Sabrina Corlette, a research professor at Georgetown University’s Center on Health Insurance Reforms. A marketing blitz can reach a broad swath of people and hopefully draw them in, regardless of whether they’re uninsured because of covid or not, she said.
Here are answers to questions about the new enrollment option.
Q: When can consumers sign up, and in which states?
A: The sign-up window will be open for three months, from Monday through May 15. Uninsured residents of any of the 36 states that use the federal healthcare.gov platform can look for plans during that time and enroll.
States and the District of Columbia that operate their own marketplaces are establishing special enrollment periods similar to the new federal one, though they may have somewhat different time frames or eligibility rules. In Massachusetts, for example, the sign-up window remains open until May 23, while in Connecticut, it closes March 15. Meanwhile, Colorado has reopened enrollment in its marketplace for residents who lack insurance, but anyone already enrolled in one of the state’s marketplace plans won’t be allowed to switch to a different plan based on this special enrollment period.