On January 28, 2021, The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), and in accordance with an Executive Order issued by the Biden Administration, announced a Special Enrollment Period (SEP) for individuals and families to gain coverage on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) health insurance Marketplace. Due to the uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, CMS determined that the public health emergency poses exceptional circumstances for consumers in obtaining health insurance. The SEP will be available to individuals in 36 states which participate in Marketplaces using the Healthcare.gov platform. CMS is encouraging states using their own Marketplace platform to offer a similar SEP. CMS’s goal is to guarantee quality, affordable coverage to more families during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The SEP will begin on February 15, 2021, and end on May 15, 2021. Marketplaces using Healthcare.gov will make operational a SEP for all eligible Marketplace users in the state. Eligible consumers who are submitting a new application, or current users who are modifying an existing application, may apply for coverage. Users will be able to access the SEP through various platforms, including Healthcare.gov, the Marketplace call center, or direct enrollment outlets. Consumers can obtain assistance with coverage from a network of more than 50,000 agents and brokers registered with the Marketplace and over 8,000 individuals trained in assisting with Marketplace coverage.
States with their own Marketplaces can, but are not mandated, to offer a similar enrollment period, although it is CMS’s recommendation that these states establish a SEP as well. Marketplace coverage is prospective; therefore, it will begin the first day of the month after an individual enrolls using Healthcare.gov. Current users must update their existing application to claim the SEP and to receive a determination on whether they are eligible. No additional application questions, documentation, verification requirements, or qualifying events such as job loss or the birth of a child, will be necessary for consumers to show they qualify for the SEP. Some consumers may already qualify for existing SEPs, Medicaid, or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and can find out if they are eligible using Healthcare.gov. Beginning February 15, 2021, consumers seeking to enroll using the SEP can find out if they qualify by using Healthcare.gov, and are no longer limited to calling the Marketplace call center. Eligible consumers will have 30 days after submitting an application to select a plan. Current enrollees will be able to switch to any plan available in their area without being restricted to the same coverage level as their current plan.