En español | Several states that operate their own Affordable Care Act (ACA) health insurance exchanges are now holding special open enrollment periods for uninsured individuals amid the spread of the novel coronavirus, which can cause a respiratory illness with symptoms ranging from mild to severe.
To date, the virus has infected more than 1.3 million Americans, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center. An estimated 30 million Americans do not have health insurance.
"It is apparent that many in our state have been exposed to this virus and that health insurance will be critical to those seeking treatment,” Pam MacEwan, the Washington Health Benefit Exchange chief executive officer, said in a statement. Washington is one of the states that has been hit hardest by the virus. Its special enrollment period ended on May 8.
"Individuals need to have peace of mind to take care of all health needs, especially if they are at a high risk,” MacEwan added.
In mid-March, more than 3,700 Maryland residents had signed up for public and private health insurance about a week after the state opened its special enrollment period due to the coronavirus. Michele Eberle, executive director of the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange, tells AARP, “Something such as COVID-19 really brings to light the need for health insurance.”
"Even though someone may be young and healthy and not ever envision getting sick, this really brings home that you just don't know,” Eberle says, adding that hospital bills for those who get really sick from COVID-19 could be significant.
An analysis from the Peterson Center on Healthcare and Kaiser Family Foundation found that the cost of treatment for severe cases of COVID-19 could top $20,000.
The federal government, which runs the marketplaces for the majority of states on HealthCare.gov, is not currently offering a special open enrollment due to the spread of the coronavirus. AARP sent a letter to Congress asking for a nationwide special open enrollment period, and some lawmakers are urging the administration to enact one. A spokesperson for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) said the agency is evaluating the idea, but in the meantime is encouraging consumers without coverage to see if they qualify for other special enrollment periods due to a life-changing event, such as loss of a job.
Here are the deadlines for each state's special open enrollment period; those that have already ended are no longer listed. Details vary by state:
- California: Enrollment is open through June 30 on the state's website.
- District of Columbia: Uninsured residents can enroll in private health insurance through June 15.
- Maryland: Uninsured residents can apply for coverage on the state's website through June 15.
- Massachusetts: Qualified uninsured residents can enroll for coverage on the state's website through June 23.
- Vermont: Vermont’s special coronavirus open enrollment period goes through June 15.