With President Joe Biden signing a flurry of executive orders on 28th January 2021 to reverse former President Trump’s HealthCare.gov policies, some vital changes are expected in the health insurance marketplace. One of the significant orders of the President involves reopening of the open enrollment period for government marketplace plans. This step of government would allow uninsured people to shop for ACA-compliant health insurance plans available in the market. According to the Commonwealth Fund, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, around 7.7 million workers were estimated to lose their job as well as employer-sponsored health insurance in June 2020. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, four out of ten uninsured Americans will be eligible for free health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Thus, the reopening of the open enrollment period will provide another opportunity, and more time for uninsured people to apply for health insurance in 36 states where HealthCare.gov is operational.
Biden’s executive order has created a new 90-day enrollment period that starts from February 15, 2021, and ends on May 15, 2021. This 90-day period will give residents of 36 states using HealthCare.gov more time and another chance to enroll in a health plan because usually people are allowed to enroll in health plans only during the open enrollment period that arrives annually or during a special enrollment period, if they face any life-changing experience. Thus, a new open enrollment period will be a great help for the residents who are still uninsured. The executive order on implementation will apply to 36 states that operate a HealthCare.gov platform and residents of these states can directly apply and enroll for coverage through the HealthCare.gov website operated by the Department of Health and Human Services. Uninsured residents of these states can enroll in a health plan on the reopening of the open enrollment period on February 15.
ACA Marketplace offering ACA Compliant Plans
Before the Affordable Care Act, people who didn’t have employer-sponsored health plans or a government-sponsored plan like Medicare or Medicaid only had the option of private health insurance plans. The process of obtaining private plans was difficult and people find it difficult to compare health plan options available across the insurers. However, with the coming up of the Affordable Care Act, this issue was tackled because the ACA marketplace was created to sell ACA compliant health plans to individuals and families not having employer-sponsored or government-sponsored health plans.
Reopening the Marketplace
The reopening of the marketplace will be giving a second enrollment option to residents of 36 states where the federal HealthCare.gov is operational, whereas the residents of the remaining states that run their own state-based marketplaces have the option to enroll in a health plan, only if they are eligible for a special enrollment period. According to some health experts, giving another enrollment opportunity may be a good idea but this policy will not likely be a game-changer. The reason being is that the affordability of health insurance is a major hindrance behind people failing to enroll in health plans. Thus, experts believe that government besides reopening HealthCare.gov should also make more effective policies like making subsidies more generous and available to more people.
Some of the states have expanded Medicaid and residents of those states having income between 100 to 400% of the federal poverty level are eligible for subsidies that reduce their monthly premiums. Residents whose income fall between 100 to 250% of the federal poverty level are eligible for cost-sharing reductions that lower the out-of-pocket cost for them on the received healthcare services. Reopening of the health insurance marketplace will not only allow residents who lost their jobs in the pandemic to apply for health insurance but even the residents who were uninsured before the pandemic now have the option to enroll in a health plan. This pandemic has very well conveyed that even healthy individuals may end up incurring high health care expenses. However, gauging the effectiveness of the reopening of the open enrollment period in the initial days is difficult and can aptly be judged only after a certain time.
Trump Administration Health Insurance Policy
Despite the recommendation of health insurance experts to reopen the open enrollment, the Trump administration did not oblige, and instead, they not only cut the duration of the annual open enrollment period but also reduced funding for the promotion on enrollment assistance. In-depth information and promotion are necessary to ensure that people are aware of the coverage options available to them because many low-income Americans may be eligible for a marketplace plan with a zero dollar premium. A marketplace is a place where individuals, families, as well as small businesses, can compare the prices of all available plans. Besides being a one-stop-shop for all the ACA plans, the marketplace also ensures that private insurers could no longer deny coverage to anyone or charge different rates based on their medical history. By strengthening the Affordable Care Act, the low-income Americans will be supported as well as the individuals with preexisting conditions who otherwise would have been denied private health insurance.
Next Step for Americans
During the time of pandemics, every American needs to have access to healthcare. Reopening of the open enrollment period in response to the COVID-19 is only one step and the government should be doing everything to make it easy for people to immediately get health coverage. All the uninsured Americans should enroll for health insurance during this period because remaining uninsured during a pandemic makes no sense and people should make effort to enroll in a plan. Starting February 15, people should enroll in a health plan and check out some leading health insurance portals to seek guidance and assistance on obtaining health insurance plans through the marketplace.