One week ago, in light of the growing COVID-19 crisis, I noted that California, the District of Columbia and Maryland were each offering Special Enrollment Periods which had nothing whatsoever to do with the pandemic.

California's SEP is for uninsured residents who didn't know that the state had reinstated the individual mandate penalty and expanded financial subsidies to those earning 400-600% of the Federal Poverty Line; DC is offering one for those who didn't know they had also reinstated the mandate penalty; and Maryland passed a clever law last year which lets residents check a box when they file their state taxes if they're uninsured which tells the state to contact them to help them enroll.

I concluded that:

...as far as I know, there's nothing preventing other state-based exchanges from establishing Special Enrollment Periods for the coronavirus crisis if they want to.

With all the concern over the rapidly spreading coronavirus epidemic and how uninsured people in particular can be expected to pay for testing and treatment of the disease, Andrew Sprung and Dave Anderson have reminded me that uninsured residents of California, the District of Columbia and Maryland may still be able to get covered via their respective ACA exchanges.

CALIFORNIA: You have until April 30th: (June 30th...see update below)

New Special-Enrollment Period Announced

Covered California also announced that effective Feb. 18 it will establish a special-enrollment period for those who were unaware of the state penalty or the new financial help. Consumers who fall into those categories, or who are currently insured off exchange (directly through an insurer) and want to switch to Covered California to benefit from the new state subsidies, will have through April 30 to sign up for coverage.

The following memo has been floating around Twitter since last night. I was concerned that it might be a hoax, but this response Tweet from the official Henry Ford Health System account can only be interpreted as confirming that it's very real...just not public as of yet. It appears to be a legitimate internal policy memo being prepared in the event of a worst-case scenario:

With a pandemic, we must be prepared for worst case. With collective wisdom from our industry, we crafted a policy to provide guidance for making difficult patient care decisions. We hope never to have to apply them. We will always utilize every resource to care for our patients.

— Henry Ford News (@HenryFordNews) March 27, 2020

@charles_gaba retweet this, your national audience needs to see this

Late last night, the U.S. Senate finally voted to approve a massive $2 TRILLION bailout/recovery bill in response to the Coronavirus pandemic. After a lot of haggling and drama, the final bill ended up passing unanimously, 96 - 0 (four Republican Senators weren't able to vote at all...due to being in self-isolation because of Coronavirus). It's expected to be quickly passed by unanimous consent in the House today and will presumably be signed by Donald Trump before nightfall.

And like that, the largest emergency economic influx bill in history is done.

There's a lot of explainers and thinkpieces being written about the bill as a whole...which elements are good, which are bad, which are flat-out offensive (especially the ~$500 billion in corporate giveaways, which still ended up in the final bill although they supposedly have some sort of oversight over which companies receive them and under what conditions), but my focus is of course on the healthcare aspects, and especially what it means for enrollment in ACA exchange plans and Medicaid via ACA expansion.

Thanks to Twitter follower V. Spell for the heads up on this chilling video from a local E.R. nurse here in Oakland County, Michigan.

I live around half an hour from both the hospitals she refers to (one is in Novi, the other in Southfield). Michigan has the fifth-highest number of confirmed cases and the eighth-highest per capita (as of this writing, we have around 2,300 confirmed cases of COVID-19), at 1 confirmed case per 4,300 residents.As of this writing, 43 Michigan coronavirus patients have died.

The video is about 7 minutes long, but I implore you to watch the entire thing. For those who can't view or hear it, i've transcribed it verbatim below.

For several years now, I've been urging Congress to upgrade the Affordable Care Act via a series of major improvements. Most notable among these is the need to #KillTheCliff...that is, to eliminate the so-called "Subsidy Cliff" which kicks in for ACA individual market enrollees who earn more than 400% of the Federal Poverty Line (roughly $50,000 for a single adult or $103,000 for a family of four).

As I've explained many tmes, the ACA's subsidy structure works pretty well for those earning between 100 - 200% FPL, and is at least acceptable for those earning 200 - 400% FPL (in fact, thanks to #SilverLoading, it works quite well for most of that population as well). The real problem kicks in above 400% FPL (and to a lesser extent below 138% FPL for those living in the 14 states which still haven't expanded Medicaid). In addition, the subsidy formula still doesn't make policies truly affordable for many of those receiving them.

In short, both the upper- & lower-bound Subsidy Cliffs need to be eliminated, and the underlying formula needs to be strengthened as well.

Besides effectively baking in a more-generous version of H.R. 1868 (Rep. Lauren Underwood's #KilltheCliff bill which I've been pushing for so hard for over a year now), the House Democrats' "Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act" coronavirus stimulus/relief bill also includes some other important ACA-related provisions. Some of these are temporary, others would be permanent.

For a couple of weeks now, I've been posting constant updates as one state-based ACA exchange after another has announced a COVID-19-specific Special Enrollment Period in light of the ongoing pandemic crisis. Until now, though, there's been two ACA exchanges which haven't made such an announcement. One is the Big One, HealthCare.Gov, which hosts a whopping 38 states and which is facing increasing pressure to do so.

The other...is Idaho. Specifically, Your Health Idaho, the state's ACA exchange.

Dave Anderson brought this to my attention in the big "Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act" coronavirus stimulus/relief bill being rolled out today as an alternative to the Senate Republican's "$500 billion corporate slush fund" bill being pushed by Mitch McConnell.

If you scroll allllllllll the way down to Pages 1,088 - 1,090, there are two provisions which relate directly to the Affordable Care Act's Advance Premium Tax Credits for exchange enrollees:

SEC. 103. RESTORATION OF LIMITATIONS ON RECONCILIATION OF TAX CREDITS FOR COVERAGE UNDER A QUALIFIED HEALTH PLAN WITH ADVANCE PAYMENTS OF SUCH CREDIT.

(a) IN GENERAL.—Section 36B(f)(2)(B)(i) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 is amended to read as follows:

photo courtesy of Michelle Mills

Today is the 10th Anniversary of the signing of the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act. On March 23rd, 2010, President Barack Obama signed the bill into law, although it would be another 3 years and 9 months before most of the major provisions would go into effect: ACA exchange policies, Advance Premium Tax Credits and Cost Sharing Reduction subsidies, Medicaid expansion in most states (although a few got an early start via special waivers and conversion of existing programs), and so forth.

You may notice that I referred to it as the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act. I, like most people, tend to shorthand the name as simply "the Affordable Care Act" or "the ACA", but the truth is that it's the patient protection part which received the most attention during the Great ACA Repeal Debacle of 2017...and which has once again come front & center in the spring of 2020.

I realize this may seem more than a little trite given the ongoing and everpresent COVID-19 pandemic...and it might be particularly so given that a dozen state-based ACA exchanges have just launched Special Enrollment Periods to help address the crisis (with HealthCare.Gov likely to follow them any day now).

Even so, the 10th Anniversary of the signing of the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act is coming up this Monday, so I figured I should take a moment to note the continuing trendline between the Federally Facilitated Marketplace (FFM) (HealthCare.Gov) and the State-based Marketplaces (SBMs). There have been as many as 15 or as few as 12 depending on the year.

The first table below lists the official number of Qualified Health Plans which were selected by Americans during the official Open Enrollment Periods for the first seven years they've occured. The blue cells represent states which operated their own full SBMs that year. This has changed over the years as follows:

Three days ago, in my "Calls growing for CMS to offer COVID-19 Special Enrollment Period via HealthCare.Gov" post, I noted that:

There's only two reasons why limited-time Open Enrollment Periods exist in the first place:

1. To help prevent people from gaming the system & causing premiums to skyrocket by waiting until they're sick/injured to sign up

2. To help goad/spur people into action (deadlines are proven to be very effective at getting people off their butts)

The thing is, this is a pandemic. "Ensuring a stable risk pool" isn't exactly a top priority for anyone at this particular moment, and the economic consequences of this disaster are going to be rampant for quite awhile no matter what anyway. Right now the top priority should be making certain as many people are covered as possible. And "deadly global pandemic" is likely to be pretty "inspirational", I'd imagine.

This just in via MNsure...

MNsure Announces Special Enrollment Period for Uninsured Minnesotans in Response to Growing COVID-19 Concerns

ST. PAUL, Minn.—Today MNsure announced a 30-day special enrollment period (SEP) for qualified individuals who are currently without insurance, in response to the potential growth of coronavirus (COVID-19) cases. This SEP that begins Monday, March 23, and runs through April 21, will allow uninsured individuals 30 days to enroll in health insurance coverage through MNsure.org.

“As more cases of COVID-19 are diagnosed throughout the state, we want to make sure every Minnesotan has the security of health insurance to ensure they can get the care they need if they contract this serious illness,” said MNsure CEO Nate Clark. “Uninsured Minnesotans can come to MNsure.org to sign up for coverage.”

Governor Tim Walz recently declared a peacetime emergency in response to the pandemic and stressed the importance of all Minnesotans to take care to avoid the spread of COVID-19.

California Responds to COVID-19 Emergency by Providing Path to Coverage for Millions of Californians

  • Covered California Expands Special Enrollment and Medi-Cal Seeks Waivers to Encourage Coverage
  • Effective immediately, anyone uninsured and eligible to enroll in health care coverage through Covered California can sign up through the end of June.
  • The Department of Health Care Services announces new steps to help those eligible for Medi-Cal sign up easily and get immediate coverage.
  • The moves come amid widespread disruption in the lives and livelihoods of Californians as public health officials seek to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
  • All medically necessary screening and testing for COVID-19 are free of charge, and all health plans available through Medi-Cal and Covered California offer telehealth options.
  • These actions build on increased state subsidies and the implementation of a state penalty, both of which took effect in January 2020

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