Special Enrollment Periods

Over the years, I've estimated that even during the off-season (that is, outside of the official annual ACA Open Enrollment Period window), around 7,000 - 9,000 Americans typically enroll in ACA exchange coverage each and every day via Special Enrollment Periods (SEPs).

SEPs are typically a 60-day enrollment window during which you're eligible to #GetCovered via your state's ACA exchange if you have a Qualifying Life Experience (QLE), such as losing your existing healthcare coverage; getting married or divorced (and thus losing your current coverage); giving birth or adopting a child (to add them to your policy); turning 26 and being dropped from your parents plan; moving outside of your current state or rating area; getting out of prison or the military; becoming ineligible for Medicaid due to your income increasing; and a few other reasons.

As I expected, Connect for Health Colorado, which had originally placed a deadline of April 3rd on their COVID-19-specific Special Enrollment Period, has extended that deadline out until the end of April:

Connect for Health Colorado Extends Emergency Special Enrollment Period until April 30 in Response to COVID-19 Outbreak

DENVER — Due to the growing number of coronavirus (COVID-19) cases and increased need for health coverage, Connect for Health Colorado will extend an Emergency Special Enrollment period for uninsured Coloradans until Thursday, April 30, 2020. 

Since March 20, approximately 5,200 individuals protected their health and safety by signing up for a health insurance plan through this Special Enrollment period. People who enroll during the extended timeframe will have coverage as of May 1. 

Just yesterday I noted that Access Health CT, Connecticut's ACA exchange, was reminding residents that the deadline for their COVID-19 Special Enrollment Period was coming up today.

Moments ago, as I was expecting, they bumped that deadline out by another two weeks:

Access Health CT Extends New Special Enrollment Period For The Uninsured

Back on March 10th, Washington State, which was one of the first states hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, was also the first state with their own full ACA exchange to announce a Special Enrollment Period specifically in response to the crisis. It originally was scheduled to last about a month, with a deadline to #GetCovered of April 8th.

Today they extended that deadline by a full month, through May 8th, 2020:

Washington Healthplanfinder Extends Current Special Enrollment Period, Gives Extra Month for Uninsured to Secure Health Coverage

In response to the ongoing Coronavirus (COVID-19) situation in Washington state, the Washington Health Benefit Exchange (Exchange) today announced it is extending the current special enrollment period for individuals who are uninsured.

via Access Health CT (this is actaully the press release from a couple of weeks ago, thus the "starting today" wording):

Access Health CT Urges Uninsured CT Residents To Take Action During Two-Week New Special Enrollment Period

New Special Enrollment Period starts today and ends Thursday, April 2

Back on March 14th, the Maryland Health Connection announced a formal COVID-19 Special Enrollment Period for uninsured residents, letting them #GetCovered through April 15th.

Maryland was already offering a SEP for uninsured residents to #GetCovered when they file their state taxes by checking off a box, but that was made pretty much moot when they launched the COVID SEP as well.

Anyway, today they announced that they're extending the COVID SEP out by another full 2 months:

SPECIAL ENROLLMENT FOR CORONAVIRUS STATE OF EMERGENCY EXTENDED TO JUNE 15

The MA Health Connector has extended their COVID-19 SEP out by another month:

Administrative Information Bulletin 03-20
Amendment to Administrative Bulletin 02-20 Guidance Regarding Special Enrollment Periods Due to the Emergence of the Novel Coronavirus SARS-Cov-2, Which Causes the Disease COVID-19
March 30, 2020

Me, 3/31/20, 1:14pm:

Well, today I received a likely answer which is depressing but not surprising at all: According to my sources, there isn't any technical, logistical, personnel or support reasons why HealthCare.Gov couldn't launch a formal COVID-19 Special Enrollment Period at any time. The only logical conclusion is that the White House has decided not to allow one for political reasons.

...The more people who come to rely on the Affordable Care Act--especially the ACA exchange operated by the Trump Administration itself--the more difficult it's going to be to justify the Trump Administration continuing to support a lawsuit with the sole purpose of attempting to have the ACA struck down by the Supreme Court...which they're continuing to try and do even in the middle of a pandemic.

Susannah Luthi, Politico, 3/31/20, 5:19pm:

Trump rejects Obamacare special enrollment period amid pandemic

Three weeks ago I reported that there were growing calls from many quarters for CMS Administrator Seema Verma and HHS Secretary Alex Azar to open up a federal Special Enrollment Period at HealthCare.Gov tied specifically to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Over the next week or so, more and more of the 13 state-based ACA exchanges announced just such a COVID-19 SEP; eventually 12 out of 13 state-based exchanges did so (Idaho is the odd man out), and eventually even the health insurance industry (which is normally opposed to allowing exceptions to the official Open Enrollment Period) were onboard with a COVID SEP. Two weeks ago I was 95% certain that HC.gov would be announcing one at any moment.

And then...nothing. Nothing last week. Nothing yesterday. Nothing as of this writing.

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.

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

No one has been shouting from the rooftops louder than I have for HHS Secretary Alex Azar or CMS Administrator Seema Verma to join nearly all of the state-based ACA exchanges in announcing an official Special Enrollment Period (SEP) in light of the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, and I'm still urging them to do so as soon as possible. The federal ACA exchange, HealthCare.Gov, hosts ACA enrollment for 38 states representing around 75% of the national population, so this is a pretty big deal.

Having said that, it's important to keep in mind that even without a COVID-19-specific SEP, many people already qualify to enroll in ACA-compliant healthcare coverage anyway, whether they're currently uninsured or because they're about to be...or because their personal circumstances are about to change. And none of these have anything to do with the COVID-19 crisis, although it's certainly going to cause a whole lot more people to qualify for two of those changes:

Special Enrollment Period (SEP)

This Just In via Vermont Health Connect...

The State of Vermont has made temporary changes to assure that Vermonters have access to health insurance. Please visit https://t.co/dXz4Cd2yQm for more information

— VT Health Connect (@VTHealthConnect) March 20, 2020

OK...that's about as vague and understated as you can get. Clicking the link doesn't make it any more obvious:

Stay informed and protect your health.

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