Oregon Governor, Legislators Press For Longer Enrollment Period

Top officials in Oregon have appealed to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to extend the health insurance enrollment period which is due to end Dec. 15.

Gov. Kate Brown and six U.S. lawmakers -- Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and Reps. Peter DeFazio, Suzanne Bonamici, Earl Blumenauer and Greg Walden -- said that thousands of Oregonians have suffered from COVID-19 and devastating wildfires, making it difficult for them to sign up for health insurance by the deadline.  

“We are concerned that many Oregonians will not have the opportunity to enroll in coverage for 2021 before the end of open enrollment,” the lawmakers said in a letter dated Nov. 30. Their letter was written as a follow-up to an appeal by Brown to the department on Nov. 18. She pointed out that there were fewer opportunities for residents to sign up for coverage this year because of the pandemic.

“With many insurance agents and application assisters working remotely and a lack of enrollment events occurring due to the pandemic, the limited time frame increases the stress and uncertainty on those who need help,” Brown wrote. 

When the pandemic hit, about 2 million Oregonians had health insurance through their jobs. But scores were laid off. Brown said there are now about 45,000 more people in Oregon receiving unemployment benefits than in the past, and 4,000 families have lost their homes due to the wildfires this summer.

“For the  families and business owners affected by the wildfires in Oregon, health coverage is one of many  things on a task list that need to be completed before the end of the year,” Brown wrote.  “It is extremely important that people in Oregon and throughout the United States are able to access  quality, affordable coverage to protect their health and financial well-being for the new year.

About 145,000 Oregonians currently have health insurance through the federal marketplace, with 70% qualifying for a federal subsidy. Another 177,000 residents have coverage through a small group plan. https://www.thelundreport.org/content/open-enrollment-federal-marketplac...

Under the Affordable Care Act when Barack Obama was president, open enrollment ran from Nov. 1 through Jan. 31. But under President Donald Trump, the Department of Health and Human Services shortened the sign-up period to 45 days.

There are exceptions: Colorado and Washington D.C. extended the period through Jan. 31, and California passed legislation that extends enrollment through Jan. 15. 

States that run their own enrollment marketplaces also have longer enrollment periods. But the 36 states that are using the federal exchange, which includes Oregon, have a 45-day window.

Consumers are allowed to sign up outside open enrollment under special circumstances, and people hit by wildfires or COVID-19 might qualify for that, the lawmakers said. But they said the extension is necessary to ensure everyone can sign up. Consumers have to prove that they qualify for special enrollment, and the uninsured are excluded.

“Without this extension, many Oregonians could simply remain uninsured, making it more difficult for them to access the care they need and to protect their families from medical debt,” the lawmakers said.

You can reach Lynne Terry at [email protected] or on Twitter @LynnePDX

News source: