The Biden administration is reopening the federal health insurance market for a limited time so those impacted by the pandemic can get insurance.
The enrollment period on HealthCare.gov will start Feb. 15 and ends May 15.
Created under the Obama-era Affordable Care Act, the marketplaces offer taxpayer-subsidized coverage regardless of a person’s medical history, or preexisting conditions, including COVID-19. Reopening the marketplace was among President Joe Biden’s recent executive orders.
Jeremy Smith, program director for WV Navigator, a non-profit enrollment assistance group, said getting help signing up is important, as many people are overwhelmed by the options or may not realize how to shop for affordable health coverage.
“More than 19,000 West Virginians enrolled in a health insurance plan during open enrollment but we know there are thousands of families out there that still need coverage,” Smith said in a release. ”This new opportunity for people to enroll will go a long way in helping families throughout West Virgnia that may have missed the original sign-up period but still needs coverage.”
Financial help is available when signing up for health insurance through the Marketplace. Last year, 9 in 10 applicants qualified for financial help in obtaining health care coverage. All plans cover essential benefits, including doctor and hospital visits, prescription drugs, mental health treatment, and maternity care. In addition, consumers receive free preventive care services, such as immunizations and health screenings. Testing and treatment of COVID-19 are considered essential health benefits and are covered by all HealthCare.gov plans.
Consumers should avoid insurance plans offered outside of HealthCare.gov that seem too good to be true, Smith said. “Junk insurance” products pose huge financial risks to consumers. These products can refuse to pay for care for pre-existing conditions, charge consumers more based on their gender, and impose annual coverage limits.
Anyone in West Virginia can call 304-356-5834 to reserve a telephone appointment with WV Navigator to get free enrollment assistance. Consultations are available over the telephone or through a telehealth option which will allow callers to see their application completed in real-time. There is no charge for enrollment assistance. The agency is a free program to West Virginia residents and receives federal funding to assist consumers with enrolling in Medicaid or in private health insurance through provisions of the ACA. More information is available at www.acanavigator.com.
Biden’s orders this week also instructs the Department of Health and Human Services to explore ways to make health insurance more affordable, including by fixing what’s called the ACA’s “family glitch.” Under that clunky provision, an entire family can be denied subsidized premiums if the head of household has access to employee-only coverage at work that’s deemed to be affordable. Fixing it would probably require legislation.
The idea of reopening Obamacare’s health insurance markets in the pandemic has had broad support, including from consumer groups, professional medical associations, insurers and business organizations.
Although the number of uninsured Americans has grown because of job losses in the coronavirus economy, the Trump administration resisted calls to reopen HealthCare.gov. Failure to repeal and replace Obamacare as he repeatedly vowed to do was one of the former president’s most bitter disappointments. His administration continued trying to find ways to limit the program or unravel it entirely. A Supreme Court decision on Trump’s final legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act is expected this year.
The Obama-era health care law covers more than 23 million people through a mix of subsidized private insurance sold in all states, and expanded Medicaid adopted by 38 states, including West Virginia. Coverage is available to people who don’t have job-based health insurance, with the Medicaid expansion geared to those with low incomes.
Of some 28 million uninsured Americans before the pandemic, the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation has estimated that more than 16 million were eligible for some form of subsidized coverage through the health law. Because of the ACA’s financial assistance, many are eligible for zero-premium coverage, and that’s expected to be a major selling point in the Biden administration’s promotional pitch.
Experts agree that number of uninsured people has risen because of layoffs in the coronavirus economy, perhaps by 5 million to 10 million, but authoritative estimates await government studies due later this year.