Special Health Insurance Enrollment Period Opening

The federal government is opening  a special enrollment period for people to sign up for commercial health insurance and obtain federal tax subsidies. 

An executive order by President Joe Biden created a  a special enrollment period from Feb. 15 to May 15 for people wanting to sign up for 2021 health insurance and subsidies through the marketplace, HealthCare.gov.

 The standard annual enrollment period took place last year between Nov. 1 through Dec. 15. But Biden, who took office on Jan. 20, created the special enrollment period to help those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic fallout. In the economic slump, millions of people have lost their jobs and the employer-provided health insurance that went with it.

Relatively few Oregon residents – about 145,000 – are insured through the marketplace. The vast majority of the state’s 4.2 million residents have other coverage: Medicaid, Medicare, or employer-provided plans.

Still, the marketplace -- which features a half-dozen commercial insurers offering a range of plans -- is important to those who need it. The marketplace is the only way people can get the federal subsidies in the form of tax credits to help pay for their premiums.

It’s typically used by those who, due to age or income, don’t qualify for Medicaid or Medicare, or lack employer-provided plans.

Just how useful the new temporary enrollment period will prove is unclear. Most people sign up through the marketplace during the standard year-end open enrollment period. But people can use the marketplace any time of the year if they experience a “qualifying event” such as job loss, losing health insurance, getting married or divorced, having a baby, or moving to a new county or ZIP code.

One caveat is that under long standing rules they must use the marketplace within 60 days of the “qualifying event,” noted Amy Coven, a spokesperson with the state Department of Consumer and Business Services, which runs the marketplace. Biden’s special enrollment period gives a second chance to people who have missed the end-of-year open enrollment and who have also missed the 60-day window, Coven noted.

The federal subsidy for the premium is a boon to many, Coven said. It can cut premiums by half or more. Oregonians can visit OregonHealthCare.gov/WindowShop for more details on what’s available.

The new Feb.15 through May 15 window “is critical during the current pandemic,” said Chiqui Flowers, administrator of the Oregon Health Insurance Marketplace. “You can get help paying for health insurance based on your income. Don’t assume you make too much to be eligible.”

Individuals making $51,040 or less per year, and families of four making $104,800 or less, can get subsidies.

So far, it does not appear that Oregon’s pandemic-induced economic crunch has caused a spike in the use of the marketplace. People who use the tool  have to sign up every year. Enrollment for 2021 coverage during the 2020 open enrollment period was 141,089, down somewhat from enrollment of 145,264 during the open period a year earlier, Coven noted.

On the other hand, demand for Medicaid, the no-cost insurance offered by the state to low-income people, has steadily surged, as more people who have lost employer-provided insurance have signed up. Enrollment in the Oregon Health Plan, the state’s version of Medicaid, hit 1.26 million at the beginning of February, up 181,920 people since the onset of the pandemic, the Oregon Health Authority reported.

You can reach Christian Wihtol at [email protected].

 

 

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