Americans who either lost health insurance or had to resort to costly, temporary coverage during the pandemic now have another chance to sign up for plans or update existing applications in the federal health insurance marketplaces. Under executive orders issued by President Biden in recent days, millions more people could obtain health insurance coverage through Healthcare.gov, which serves 36 states. The actions are a first move in making good on his pledge to strengthen access to healthcare—creating a new 90-day enrollment period and reexamining several restrictive Trump administration policies.

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Key Takeaways

  • An executive order by President Biden expands Healthcare.gov enrollment from Feb. 15 to May 15, 2021.
  • The move reopens the doors to health insurance for potentially millions of Americans who may have lost coverage during the pandemic.
  • States that run their own healthcare marketplaces are also expected to follow suit.

ACA Enrollment Reopens, Other Policies Under Review

The order adds a special enrollment period, which runs from Feb. 15 to May 15, 2021. That means that people without health insurance will have a chance to consider their state’s marketplace options offered through the Affordable Care Act (ACA), on top of the usual Nov. 1 to Dec. 15 annual enrollment time frame already passed.

In addition, Biden also called for federal agencies to review several actions taken during the Trump administration’s tenure. They include policies that may weaken healthcare protections for people with preexisting conditions, including those relating to COVID-19, as well as measures that make it more difficult to enroll in Medicaid and the ACA.

What’s the Scope of the Impact?

The extra three months, paired with a $50 million advertising and outreach campaign, could have a significant impact at a time when millions of people lost employer-sponsored health insurance coverage due to pandemic-driven job losses or benefits cuts.

A review of several studies attempting to plot the effects of the COVID-19 economy on health insurance show that anywhere from 10 million to 30 million workers and their dependents have lost employer-based health coverage since March 2020. Roughly two-thirds of them found alternative coverage, the analysis shows, through a new job, a spouse’s or parent’s health plan, the federal marketplaces, or Medicaid.

Important Things to Know

While the order applies only to the federal HealthCare.gov site, the intent is for the 14 states that manage their own marketplace exchanges to follow suit in reopening enrollment as well—marking a national effort. California, Colorado, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Washington, for example, have announced they will do the same; more are expected.

Typically, people are eligible for special enrollment periods outside regular sign-ups if they lost workplace insurance, moved, got married, or had a child. The new order does away with the need to provide any documentation of these qualifying events. Expect the planned outreach to better inform the many people losing their insurance now who aren’t fully aware of what the marketplaces offer and how they work.

Your income level, for example, may qualify you for financial subsidies that directly reduce the cost of insurance coverage. An income-based tax credit may also be available when buying a marketplace health plan.

To learn more, head to Healthcare.gov. To estimate cost and financial help you might qualify for, try the Health Insurance Marketplace Calculator developed by the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation.