En español | Millions of Americans between the ages of 50 and 64 will be able to sign up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplace until Aug. 15 and qualify for increased financial help for premiums included in the American Rescue Plan, the administration announced March 23.
On the 11th anniversary of the ACA's being signed into law, President Biden announced the extension of the special open enrollment period so that all consumers who either do not have insurance or want to change or upgrade their coverage have three additional months to act. This special enrollment period, designed to help people who lost their health insurance because of job losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic, was scheduled to expire on May 15.
Americans who live in the 36 states that participate in the federal health care marketplace (healthcare.gov) will automatically be eligible for the open enrollment extension. Consumers who get their coverage through state exchanges will have to check if their state extends its enrollment period, which all states did when the administration initially extended the period until May 15.
A growing number of older adults who are not old enough to qualify for Medicare lack health insurance. According to AARP research, 5.4 million adults between 50 and 64 do not have access to coverage through their job or a public program. Medicare eligibility typically begins at age 65.
"The reason that this additional three months is so important is because just a few weeks ago the American Rescue Plan included a two-year expansion of financial assistance for ACA coverage,” said Brendan Rose, AARP's senior legislative representative for health and family issues. “And what this means is that financial help is available to virtually every adult in America who does not have coverage regardless of their income. So, in addition to accessibility, we now have affordability. And those have been two of AARP's long-term advocacy goals for our 50-to-64-year-old members."
More financial help available
Before the passage of the American Rescue Plan, people were eligible for tax credits to defray the cost of their insurance only if their income did not exceed 400 percent of the poverty level ($51,520 for an individual). Under the new law, for the next two years no one who receives health coverage through an ACA marketplace would have to pay more than 8.5 percent of their income on health insurance premiums.
These changes apply both to people who need to buy insurance through a marketplace for the first time and to those who already have ACA coverage. The new subsidy rules are expected to decrease monthly premiums for many insured through the marketplaces by an average of $50, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). “On average, one out of four enrollees on healthcare.gov will be able to upgrade to a higher plan category that offers better out-of-pocket costs at the same or lower premium compared to what they're paying today,” according to an HHS news release. The premium savings take effect April 1 but will be retroactive to Jan. 1 and can be applied to people's 2021 tax returns.
In addition, beginning in early July, consumers who have received or were eligible for unemployment insurance benefits for any week during 2021 may be eligible for more premium savings, either when enrolling in a marketplace plan for the first time or if they update their existing coverage.
Dena Bunis covers Medicare, health care, health policy and Congress. She also writes the “Medicare Made Easy” column for the AARP Bulletin. An award-winning journalist, Bunis spent decades working for metropolitan daily newspapers, including as Washington bureau chief for the Orange County Register and as a health policy and workplace writer for Newsday.