Healthcare.Gov

Back in March & April, I wrote a lot about COVID-19 Special Enrollment Periods...and especially about the fact that the largest ACA exchange of all, HealthCare.Gov, kept refusing to do so in spite of massive pressure from governors, members of Congress and nearly every advocacy group under the sun, as well as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and even the health insurance industry itself...which is especially remarkable given that it was BCBSA & AHIP who insisted on cracking down on Special Enrollment Periods in the first place a few years earlier.

On March 31st, I posted the following:

Back in April, in the midst of the earlier stages of the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping through much of the nation, there was a loud outcry for the various ACA health insurance exchanges, including the federal exchange at HealthCare.Gov which hosts enrollment for over 3 dozen states, to re-open enrollment to anyone who missed the official Open Enrollment Period which had ended several months earlier.

Eventually, twelve of the thirteen state-based exchanges did just that, launching COVID-19-specific Special Enrollment Periods of varying time periods for any resident who would normally be eligible to enroll during Open Enrollment to do so. Many of those SBEs would go on to extend the deadlines of their SEPs by a month...or two months...or even more. As of this writing, in fact, California, Maryland, New York and the District of Columbia are are still offering "open" COVID-19 SEPs.

For the past few months, I've been keeping track, to the best of my ability, of how many people have been enrolling in ACA exchange policies utilizing the COVID-19-specific Special Enrollment Periods which have been offered by 12 of the 13 state-based exchanges (SBEs). My most recent update brings the grand total of confirmed SEP enrollments to at least 260,000 across 8 states, averaging around 3,500 per day.

The actual number is obviously higher than this, of course, since I don't have any data from the other four state exchanges (DC, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont), although three of those four are pretty small anyway...and even in New York, their unique "Essential Plan" (the Basic Health Plan program established under the ACA itself) has likely been sucking up the bulk of individual market enrollees earning up to 200% FPL anyway...and you can enroll in the Essential Plan year-round regardless of the pandemic. I therefore doubt that NY's COVID SEP numbers for those earning more than 200% FPL are that dramatic. All told, I'd expect NY, RI, VT & DC to only add perhaps another 25,000 or so QHP enrollees to the table below:

I've been making a LOT of fuss lately about how important it is for CMS Administrator Seema Verma to give the green light to an official "Open" COVID-19 Special Enrollment Period (SEP) via the federal ACA exchange (HealthCare.Gov). Last week I projected that if every state were to offer a full 60-day "open" SEP ("open" means that any uninsured U.S. citizen or eligible documented resident could sign up without requiring a Qualifying Life Event), somewhere between 2.5 - 3.3 million Americans would likely enroll during that 2-month period.

Of that number, I projected that around 1.8 - 2.3 million additional people would likely reside in the 38 states hosted by HealthCare.Gov, with the remainder living in the 12 states which are offering COVID-specific SEPs (although the deadlines in those states vary, and some do require enrollees to jump through at least minimal hoops to enroll).

For over a month now, I (and many, many others) have been pleading with HHS Secretary Alex Azar, CMS Administrator Seema Verma and CMS itself to launch a formal, "open" COVID-19 specific Special Enrollment Period for the millions of people living in the 38 states hosted by HealthCare.Gov who are uninsured but who don't qualify for Medicaid, CHIP or other "year-round enrollment" programs such as the Essential Plan in New York, MinnesotaCare in Minnesota or ConnectorCare in Massachusetts. Even the insurance industry--which normally hates letting people enroll at any time outside of the official Open Enrollment Period--has been calling for them to do so.

Yesterday I ran an exclusive analysis based on existing COVID-19 Special Enrollment Period (SEP) data to figure out a) roughly how many Americans are likely to enroll in ACA exchange coverage using this SEP in the twelve states offering one, and b) how many additional Americans would likely #GetCovered via ACA exchange policies in the other 39 states which don't currently have a CV19 SEP in place.

As I've explained before, while pretty much anyone who loses their employer-based health insurance is automatically eligible for a normal 60-day Special Enrollment Period regardless of what state they live in, under the current pandemic/mass layoff situation, the standard "loss of coverage" SEP is a red tape nightmare under Trump Administration regulations since you have to provide hard-to-get documentation of your status and have it verified by CMS, which can take weeks.

4/16/20: Important Update at bottom!

With all the anger at CMS Administrator Seema Verma, HHS Secretary Alex Azar and of course Donald Trump himself over CMS's refusal (to date) to open up a COVID-19 specific Special Enrollment Period on the federal ACA exchange (HealthCare.Gov), last week I decided to try and figure out just how many people are enrolling across the 12 state-based exchanges which are offering CV19 SEPs...and just as importantly, how many people would likely take advantage of a CV19-specific SEP on the federal exchange if and when they ever decide to go ahead and launch one.

I noted this a couple of weeks ago, but I'm updating this post because the official CMS 2020 Open Enrollment Period report has just been released, so I have final numbers for every state now.

Normally this would be a big, wonky, in-depth analysis, but I'm gonna keep it relatively basic this year for two reasons: First, because the final numbers are only slightly different from what I had them at already (seriously, I was only off by around 5,300 enrollees out of over 11.4 million total); second, because with the COVID-19 pandemic having killed well over 5,000 Americans already with no end in sight, I'm not sure anyone really gives a crap at the moment.

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.

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)

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.

In response to tremendous pressure after yesterday's major technical issues at HealthCare.Gov, CMS Administrator Seema Verma just announced that the deadline for people to #GetCovered in the 38 states which host their ACA enrollment platform with HealthCare.Gov will indeed be extended by 2 days:

We at @CMSGov want to ensure a seamless shopping experience for everyone seeking coverage, so starting at 3 pm ET today, we are extending the marketplace #OpenEnrollment deadline until 3 am ET December 18! https://t.co/HmVdpJlX2C

— Administrator Seema Verma (@SeemaCMS) December 16, 2019

(I originally misread this as being a 3-day extension, but it's only 2 days, since it runs through midnight Pacific Time on Tuesday.)

Dammit, I took a couple of hours off to rewatch The Force Awakens with my kid (in anticipation of The Rise of Skywalker coming out this week), and look what happens...

HealthCare.Gov is not letting people login to enroll. This is the second outage, the first lasted 15 minutes. We're 8 minutes into the second. Last time this happened, 100k people could not enroll. @CMSGov must extend the deadline.

— Joshua Peck (@JoshuaFAPeck) December 15, 2019

When I loaded the site, I got the same error screen...but when I refreshed, the login screen came back up again.

Over at the Washington Post, reporter Yasmeen Abutaleb has a disturbing-sounding story which immediately caught my eye and raised major internal alarms within the healthcare wonk/advocate community:

Critics say ‘junk plans’ are being pushed on ACA exchanges

The Trump administration has encouraged consumers to use private brokers, who often make more money if they sell the less robust plans.

The Trump administration is encouraging consumers on the Obamacare individual market to seek help from private brokers, who are permitted to sell short-term health plans that critics deride as “junk” because they don’t protect people with preexisting conditions, or cover costly services such as hospital care, in many cases.

So far, this is nothing new; I've been warning people about this since day one...it's the 2nd item on my "Seven Important Things to Remember" blog post from November 1st:

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