Maryland: @MarylandConnect announces 140K have gotten covered via #COVID19 SEP...over the past year

The Maryland Health Benefit Exchange has issued a new press release which on the surface doesn't seem terribly unusual--it touts an impressive number of Maryland residents having gained healthcare coverage since they first launched their COVID-19 Special Enrollment Period (SEP).

What's unusual about this PR is that it's listing the cumulative number of people who've gained coverage since they launched their first COVID SEP a year ago:

MORE THAN 140,000 COVERED SINCE MARYLAND HEALTH CONNECTION LAUNCHED COVID-19 SPECIAL ENROLLMENT ONE YEAR AGO

  • 236,000 WHO STILL LACK COVERAGE COULD GET IT FOR FREE OR WITH SIGNIFICANT FINANCIAL HELP

(MARCH 17, 2021) BALTIMORE — Yesterday marked one year since the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange launched a Coronavirus Emergency Special Enrollment Period in response to the public health emergency declared by Gov. Larry Hogan.

Some 140,715 Marylanders have gained health insurance through the special enrollment. Many Marylanders who lacked coverage were able to enroll in private health plans outside the typical open enrollment period held each fall through the state-based marketplace, Maryland Health Connection.

“We’re happy that thousands were able to get coverage and peace of mind for themselves and their families during this difficult time,” said Michele Eberle, executive director of the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange. “We’re also thankful for the support and cooperation from the Maryland Insurance Administration, the Maryland Department of Health and our partner insurance companies CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, Kaiser Permanente and UnitedHealthcare.”

An estimated 236,000 Marylanders who remain without health coverage would be able to get coverage for free or with significant financial help, in many cases worth hundreds of dollars a month, according to Maryland Health Benefit Exchange analysis.

The Coronavirus Special Enrollment is currently scheduled to run through May 15.

People eligible for Medicaid can enroll year-round. Others will still be able to enroll in private coverage through Maryland Health Connection if they recently lost coverage through a “life change” event such as job loss or divorce.

“We are pleased to announce the tremendous response to this special enrollment period, which is one of the nation’s longest in response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Gov. Hogan said. “This program’s success is a testament to our commitment to ensure Marylanders have access to the resources they need to weather the pandemic and come back stronger and healthier.”

Of the 140,715 who have enrolled since March 16, 2020, 92,327 qualified for free Medicaid coverage. The other 48,388 enrolled in private coverage. About 70 percent of them — 33,988 — received financial help to lower their out-of-pocket costs.

Also, 43,095 of the enrollees self-identified as Black or African-American. Another 17,466 enrollees self-identified as Hispanic. And 49,912 were young adults between 18 and 34 years old. These residents have lacked health insurance at levels greater than the general public.

There's several things to unpack here.

First, as they note, Medicaid enrollment is always year-round anyway; while it's still important that a lot of people have signed up for it, that's not really related to the SEP itself (although Medicaid enrollment was likely boosted somewhat by the ongoing awareness campaign related to the SEP, I'm sure). Medicaid enrollees make up 65.6% of the total.

As for the other 34.4% (48,388) who've enrolled in private ACA exchange policies, that gets a bit trickier to parse out. First, this includes everyone who enrolled during MD's 2020 COVID SEP as well. There's also the 166,000 Marylanders who enrolled in Qualified Health Plans (QHPs) during the official 2021 Open Enrollment Period, which ended on December 15th.

What's more relevant to me is how many MD residents have enrolled in QHPs since they re-opened their COVID SEP this year, starting on January 4th.

I can't get a precise number, but I can come very close by looking at the MD exchange's monthly dashboard reports:

Overall, that's around 12,188 from 1/04 - 3/16, or around 171 per day.

It's interesting that there was an initial surge in January which has only started to ramp back up again in early March. I'm assuming much of the January surge was connected to a) the COVID numbers spiking to record highs and b) the fact that enrolling in January still reserved 11 months of the year for your deductible & other out of pocket expenses. The pace seems to be rising again now, likely due to the expanded/enhanced subsidies included in the American Rescue Plan.