Colorado: @C4HCO launches Special Enrollment Period due to Boulder wildfires & the Omicron COVID wave (update)

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UPDATE: Connect for Health Colorado has officially announced the Special Enrollment Period described below:

We’re offering a Special Enrollment Period now through March 16 to those who have been impacted by the Marshall Fire or the current surge of the Omicron variant of COVID-19. In most cases, your health insurance will start on the first day of the month after you select your plan.

You can still get health insurance for 2022

You qualify to enroll in coverage now if you:

  • Are impacted by Colorado wildfires, including the Marshall Fire
  • Are impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Experience a qualifying life event

Shop for plans and make these selections

  • Select the enrollment reason “Will lose/lost health insurance, was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, was impacted by Colorado wildfires, or my household’s annual income meets special requirements.”
  • Enter the date you are applying as the qualifying life event date

By taking these steps, you will not be asked by the health insurance company to provide documentation to verify your eligibility for the Disaster Relief Special Enrollment Period (now through March 16, 2022).

In addition, there's also a note on the home page of the C4HCO website stating that "If you were unable to complete your enrollment by January 15, you may still be able to get covered for February 1st. Call us at 855-752-6749 no later than 6pm on January 19th, or contact your Broker/Assister." 

Since the first Open Enrollment Period (OEP) launched in 2013, the ACA's ever-changing OEP deadlines have turned into sort of a running joke on this site. Every year without fail, the Official Deadline is the Official Deadline...right up until a few days before the Official Deadline arrives, at which point at least a half-dozen state-based marketplaces (SBMs) will inevitably announce some sort of an extension.

Sometimes this is due to major technical problems, as happened to HealthCare.Gov and many of the SBMs during the first OEP.

Sometimes it's due to a natural disaster which wiped out electricity, internet service, phone lines or all of the above. The best example of this was in fall 2017, when bumped out the deadline for 2018 coverage from December 15th to December 31st in response to the Hurricane Harvey /Irma /Maria trifecta which hit dozens of counties in Texas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and South Carolina.

Sometimes this is simply done in response to high demand or traffic to the website/support lines.

And finally, in 2020 & 2021, it was done in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused millions of people to lose their jobs, incomes and healthcare coverage all in one shot.

Already during the 2022 OEP we've seen Idaho, New Mexico, Connecticut and Kentucky bump out their December deadline (for January coverage). In Kentucky's case, this was in response to the horrific tornadoes which ripped through the state a few days before the deadline.

Well, today it looks like Colorado will likely be the first state to launch an extended final Special Enrollment Period (SEP) for 2022...for a full two months:

In light of the fires in Boulder County on December 30, 2021 and the rapid increase in COVID-19 cases due to the Omicron variant, the purpose of this emergency regulation is to allow for a special enrollment period in Colorado that allows enrollment in an individual health benefit plan from January 16, 2022 through March 16, 2022.

COVID-19 has spread rapidly in the state due to both the Delta and Omicron variants. Data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) indicates that positivity rates are over 25% and reported positive new daily cases reached an all-time high in December.

On December 30, 2021, the Marshall and Middle Fork Fires (“Boulder County Fires”) - the most devastating fires in Colorado history - damaged or destroyed more than 1,000 residetial and commercial structures. Victims of the Boulder County Fires may have experienced and may continue to experience health issues stemming from exposure to smoke, soot or ash. This emergency regulation is necessary to ensure individuals impacted by COVID -19 and/or the Boulder County Fires have the ability to access health insurance coverage.

The Division of Insurance finds, pursuant to § 24-4-103(6)(a), C.R.S., that immediate adoption of this regulation is imperatively necessary for the preservation of public health, safety, or welfare because allowing individuals not currently enrolled in health benefit plans in Colorado to enroll in a health benefit plan in order to receive coverage in light of the ongoing COVID-19 public health emergency and the Boulder County Fires is imperative to preserve the health of the citizens of Colorado. Therefore, compliance with the requirements of § 24-4-103, C.R.S., would be contrary to the public interest.

OK, so this is in response to both the Boulder wildfires as well as the massive surge in COVID cases during the Omicron wave.

There's an important caveat, however:

Application and Verification requirements

1. To access this SEP, individuals must be otherwise eligible for enrollment in the individual health benefit plan for which they are applying and must not already be enrolled in an individual, group or other health benefit plan. Only individuals not currently enrolled in a health benefit plan are eligible for the SEP established under Section 5.A.

2. Individuals may apply for the SEP provided under Section 5.A. by contacting Connect for Health Colorado, a broker, an assister, or the carrier directly to determine eligibility and enrollment.

3. To verify eligibility for the SEP, individuals shall attest that they are currently not enrolled in an ACA-compliant health benefit plan. Verbal attestation is sufficient for purposes of determining eligibility for this SEP. Carriers shall not require additional verification or attestation beyond the eligibility and enrollment information provided by Connect for Health Colorado. Carriers shall not require written documentation for verification of this SEP and may waive the verbal attestation requirement.

4. The eligibility verification requirements of Colorado Insurance Regulation 4-2-43, 3 CCR 702-4, do not apply to this SEP.

5. This SEP is for qualified individuals applying for new coverage; it does not extend to those who, absent a separate triggering event, are currently enrolled in an ACA-compliant health benefit plan and are seeking to change their current coverage or change carriers.

In other words, this isn't quite the same as the Open Enrollment Period, in which even those already enrolled in an ACA plan can switch to a different one. Only those who have no healthcare coverage at all or those enrolled in "junk" coverage (short-term plans, "sharing ministries" etc.) are eligible to take advantage of it.

Of course, normal Special Enrollment Period rules still apply as well: If you lose your employer-sponsored coverage, move to a new rating area, turn 26 and are no longer eligible to stay on your parents plan, etc., you still qualify for a 60-day "regular" SEP.

I should stress that Colorado's 2-month SEP is not official yet--they're still seeking public comment, so if you live in Colorado and need healthcare coverage, I still strongly recommend that you #GetCovered before Saturday, January 15th just in case. Visit today.