December 13, 2017

Not all ACA exchanges have a Friday deadline, and other facts about open enrollment

Daily Briefing

    Deadlines for U.S. residents to sign up for exchange plans are nearing, and advocates are working to inform people of the deadlines and some recent glitches that might have effected individuals' ability to sign up for exchange coverage.

    Open enrollment deadlines

    The open enrollment period for the federal exchange will close Friday, meaning U.S. residents that live in the 39 states that rely on the federal exchange must sign up for coverage by end of day Dec. 15. However, individuals living in some states that run their own exchanges will have more time. States that chose to extend their open enrollment periods include:

    • California and New York, which have extended their open enrollment periods through Jan. 31, 2018;
    • Colorado, which has extended its open enrollment period through Jan. 12, 2018;
    • Minnesota, which has extended its open enrollment period through Jan. 14, 2018; and
    • Washington, which has extended its open enrollment period through Jan. 15, 2018.

    Some U.S. residents recently affected by hurricanes also will have more time to sign up for exchange plans. CMS in September announced special enrollment periods for individuals affected by hurricanes Harvey, Irma, or Maria who:

    • Experienced a qualifying event and can confirm they currently reside or resided at the time of the hurricanes in any of the counties that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) declared as meeting the level of "individual assistance" or "public assistance;"
    • Rely on friends or family who live in areas affected by the hurricanes to make health care decisions; and
    • Reside or resided at the beginning of the incident period in an area where FEMA declared an emergency or a major disaster.

    The special enrollment periods give affected U.S. residents until Dec. 31 to enroll in exchange plans for the 2018 coverage year.

    In addition, CMS said it created a special open enrollment period for U.S. residents who experienced a qualifying event during the hurricanes that would have allowed them to enroll in or change their existing 2017 exchange plan. CMS said that special open enrollment period would extend from "60-days prior to the start date of the incident period designated by … FEMA" and Dec. 31.

    Further, Kaiser Health News reports that all U.S. residents currently enrolled in exchange plans that are not being sold for the 2018 coverage year will qualify for a special enrollment period that will allow them to sign up for a new exchange plan for up to 60 days after their current coverage expires on Dec. 31. That special enrollment deadline also will apply to individuals who were automatically re-enrolled in new plans because their current plans would not be available for 2018, according to Karen Pollitz, a senior fellow at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

    However, that special enrollment period will not apply to individuals who are re-enrolled in their existing plans, so current exchange enrollees should visit the exchanges to select coverage for 2018 in order to avoid potential premium hikes, KHN reports. Documents obtained earlier this year by the Washington Post showed that CMS for the 2018 coverage year will re-enroll individuals in exchange plans the day after the open enrollment period ends, meaning affected individuals will not be able to switch coverage once they are re-enrolled in their plans. Some health policy experts have said the move could leave affected consumers stuck in unwanted health plans.

    Advocates tout deadlines in final enrollment push

    Ahead of the deadlines, public officials are making final pushes to ensure eligible U.S. residents sign up for exchange plans.

    For example, former President Barack Obama on Monday joined a call with volunteers and navigators that help U.S. residents sign up for coverage and urged individuals to enroll through posts on Twitter and Facebook, The Hill reports.

    Shelby Gonzales, a senior policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said while many U.S. residents are eligible for extended enrollment periods this year, she is "worried that a lot of consumers won't know it."

    For instance, Gonzales said while "many consumers experienced a discontinuation of their plan this year," notices about the special enrollment periods for which they qualify could be unclear. "Notices are complicated, and these consumers in particular are going to get several notices which may result in more confusion, and it will not be easily understood by many what [a special enrollment period] is or how and/or when to activate it."

    Further, Gonzales said consumer advocates are not likely to begin focusing on special enrollment periods until after the federal exchange's open enrollment deadline passes. "They want one clear message for everyone: Open enrollment ends Dec. 15."

    Consumer advocates note federal exchange glitch

    Meanwhile, consumer advocates also are noting a glitch with the federal exchange that might have affected some individuals' ability to sign up for coverage, the Associated Press reports.

    Advocates said some consumers in Illinois who successfully completed applications through HealthCare.gov for federal subsidies to help offset their exchange plan premiums incorrectly received a message saying although they likely were eligible to purchase an exchange plan, there were none "available" in their areas.

    Stephani Becker of the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law said consumer advocates in Illinois reported the glitch late last week and on Monday. She said the glitch also was reported in other states.

    Becker said while enrollment counselors should know that the message was inaccurate, "the average consumer might just walk away."

    According to the AP, a Trump administration official said the glitch has been fixed and that exchange officials would reach out to affected consumers to encourage them to finish their applications, though Becker said advocates had received a similar response from administration officials last week, and the problem persisted (Alonso-Zaldivar, AP/Sacramento Bee, 12/11; Andrews, Kaiser Health News, 12/12; Andrews, Kaiser Health News, 12/8; Sullivan, The Hill, 12/11).

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