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 41,000 Americans, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center. Hundreds have died from the illness, called COVID-19.
California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington all have announced that people without insurance can sign up for a plan — even without a life-changing event, which is the usual exception to standard open enrollment periods. 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.
"Individuals need to have peace of mind to take care of all health needs, especially if they are at a high risk,” MacEwan added.
More than 3,700 Maryland residents have signed up for public and private health insurance since last week, when the state opened a 30-day 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.
A new 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. Details vary by state:
• California: Enrollment is open through June 30 on the state's website.
• Colorado: Residents without coverage or who are about to lose coverage due to COVID-19 can sign up through April 3 on the state's website.
• Connecticut: Qualified uninsured residents can enroll for coverage on the state's website through April 2.
• 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 April 15.
• Massachusetts: Qualified uninsured residents can enroll for coverage on the state's website through April 25.
• Minnesota: Qualified residents can enroll on the state's website through April 21.
• Nevada: Qualified residents can sign up on the state's website through April 15.
• New York: Uninsured individuals can sign up on the state's website through April 15.
• Rhode Island: Qualified individuals who are uninsured can sign up on the state's website through April 15.
• Vermont: Qualified residents can sign up on the state's website.
• Washington: Qualified individuals who are uninsured can sign up on the state's website through April 8.