Maryland: @MarylandConnect says "to hell with it", extends #COVID19 SEP out thru December

Back on March 10th, the Washington HealthPlanFinder became the first state-based ACA exchange/marketplace to formally create an official COVID-19 Special Enrollment Period, which was originally scheduled to have a deadline of April 8th.

Since that time, nearly every other state-based ACA exchange (all of them except for Idaho) has done likewise. Some of them required some sort of verbal or written attestation of thier eligibility status, while others didn't, but all of them were wide open to any uninsured resident who would normally be eligible to enroll during the official Open Enrollment Period.

The deadlines for the "open" COVID-19 SEP varied by state...but most of them ended up extending them out as that deadline approached. In some cases, they bumped it out again...and again...and yet again, as it became increasingly clear that the deadly pandemic isn't going away anytime soon.

In mid-June, after the Vermont exchange extended their deadline out from the original April 15th, to June 15th, and then to August 14th, I noted:

I admit that this is starting to get a bit silly. At a certain point I'm guessing at least one of the state exchanges will just say "screw it" and open 2020 enrollment up for the full year.

The point of a deadline is a) to prevent people from trying to game the system by deliberately waiting until they're sick/injured before enrolling in coverage (thus driving up premiums for everyone else) and b) to goad people into actually taking action (deadlines do have a clear positive impact on enrollment). With the COVID-19 pandemic having thrown the entire healthcare system into disarray, neither of those seem to be much of a factor this year.

Well, sure enough, earlier today my prediction came true:

Governor Hogan Announces Reopening of Coronavirus Special Enrollment to Uninsured Marylanders as COVID-19 Pandemic Continues

Maryland Will Offer Nation’s Longest Special Enrollment Period Related to COVID-19 Emergency; More Than 54,000 Enrolled in Health Coverage from March 16 to July 15

ANNAPOLIS, MD—Gov. Larry Hogan was joined today by Insurance Commissioner Kathleen Birrane, insurance companies, and the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange to announce the reopening of the coronavirus emergency special enrollment period until Dec. 15. More than 54,000 Marylanders enrolled in health coverage during the special enrollment period from March 16 to July 15. With today’s announcement, Maryland will offer the longest special enrollment period in the nation related to the coronavirus emergency.

“The people of our great state have endured so many personal, medical, and economic challenges, and this crisis is not yet behind us,” said Governor Hogan. “Reopening the special enrollment period is another way we are helping Marylanders weather this storm, get back on their feet, and recover.”

“As Maryland continues to battle this global pandemic, we would like to make it as easy as possible for uninsured Marylanders to address their health concerns by reopening the coronavirus special enrollment period to help our Maryland families get the health coverage they need,” said Michele Eberle, executive director of Maryland Health Benefit Exchange.

Maryland Health Connection plans cover testing, visits relating to testing, and treatment of COVID-19. Consumers will not be billed for a copay, coinsurance, or deductible for services to test, diagnose, and treat COVID-19. Marylanders do not need to be sick to enroll in coverage. This special enrollment is for private health plans only. Those who qualify for Medicaid may enroll any time of year.

To enroll, visit ​MarylandHealthConnection.gov​ or download the free “Enroll MHC” mobile app. For free consumer assistance, call 855-642-8572 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays. Help is available in more than 200 languages through the call center, as well as Relay service for the Deaf and hard of hearing. Trained navigators and brokers statewide offer free help enrolling by phone.

It's important to note that although the deadline for this particular SEP is December 15th (which overlaps with the 2021 Open Enrollment Period), it's not necessarily the same as the 2021 OEP (which starts on November 1st). In other words, if you enroll on, say, November 5th using the SEP, that would only be for one month of coverage (December); you'd have to enroll separately for 2021 coverage (unless you stick with the same plan, in which case you'll be auto-renewed). I realize that's pretty confusing.

The great irony of Maryland being the first state to do this "year-round" enrollment policy is that just last year the state took great pride in passing their unique "Easy Enrollment" bill, which allowed residents who hadn't enrolled in ACA-compliant coverage a 60-day SEP to #GetCovered by checking off a new tax form box when they filed their state taxes. This development kind of makes that brand-new bill a bit moot...at least for the first year it's in place, anyway.

In any event, the COVID-19 pandemic has now effectively forced Maryland to cut off the rest of the "Red Leg" of the #ACA's 3-Legged Stool (for 2020, at least). Congressional Republicans chopped most of it off by zeroing out the individual mandate penalty a couple of years ago. The COVID pandemic has basically eaten away at the "limited time enrollment window" portion at different levels depending on the state.