Health advocate calls planned reopening of insurance enrollment period during pandemic “compassionate”

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — President Joe Biden was expected to take steps Thursday to reopen health insurance enrollment periods for dozens of state marketplaces created in the Affordable Care Act to encourage more people to sign up for plans with possible subsidies.

Enrollment for 2021 coverage previously ended on Dec. 15, 2020.

Additional time for enrollment, from Feb. 15 to May 15, 2020 with marketing support from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, was to be an option in the 36 states using the platform.

West Virginia is one of those states.

In the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, “We think that opening up the marketplace outside of open enrollment is a compassionate thing to do,” said Dr. Jessica Ice, executive director of West Virginians for Affordable Health Care.

Jessica Ice

“Noting that people’s lives are in such flux right now, to give them an option to not have to worry about whether or not they would qualify for a special enrollment period, we think that’s vital for folks.”

Special enrollment periods are usually available within 60 days of certain life events like losing health coverage, relocating, getting married, having a baby or adopting a child.

Otherwise, access is limited to the open enrollment period.

As of earlier this month, information from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services indicated 19,381 state residents had completed insurance enrollments via the exchange with either CareSource or Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield for coverage to start on Jan. 1, 2021.

The final number may change depending on premium payments, but the initial reporting reflected the continuation of a downward trend in marketplace enrollments statewide in recent years.

Medicaid enrollments may be a factor. At any given time, as many as a third of West Virginians are insured through Medicaid, according to Ice.

Also, during the past three to four years, Ice said the number of uninsured people in West Virginia has been rising.

On the health insurance marketplace, most Mountain State residents qualify for subsidies to help with premium costs.

After promising a repeal, former President Donald Trump worked to weaken the Affordable Care Act which former President Barack Obama, with current President Biden serving as vice president, signed into law.

In November, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on a lawsuit from 18 states, West Virginia being one of them, challenging the constitutionality of the ACA’s insurance mandate without the penalty for not having health insurance that Congress removed.

No final ruling has yet been issued.

In the longer-term, President Biden has pledged to bolster ACA and potentially create an option for a government health plan.

“Making moves right now is especially important because of the pandemic, but we understand that some things will just have to be a longer haul,” Ice said.

“We’re cautiously optimistic that we can make some great strides in health care (under President Biden).”

On Thursday, along with the enrollment period reopening, President Biden was set to end a rule blocking U.S. foreign aid for health providers offering abortion counseling in other countries.

Orders were also planned to strengthen Medicaid and require agency reviews.

Already this week, President Biden has taken executive steps to address manufacturing, racial equality and climate change.