Special enrollment period for health insurance on healthcare.gov ends Aug. 15; subsidies are bigger, and more people qualify

AARP illustration

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

Time is running out to sign up for low- or no-cost health insurance through the federal marketplace under the special enrollment created by Congress and President Biden. The deadline to sign up on healthcare.gov is Aug. 15.

The president reopened the marketplace in mid-February under the American Rescue Plan Act, for people who needed coverage during the pandemic, and later extended the deadline to Aug. 15.

The special enrollment is open to both new and existing customers, including the thousands of Kentuckians who got temporary Medicaid coverage during the pandemic through the state’s “presumptive eligibility” program.

About 120,000 Kentuckians lost that temporary Medicaid coverage in July, according to Brice Mitchell, a spokesman for the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services.
Mitchell said the state has told some of those people they would be losing their coverage and encouraged them to check kynect.ky.gov to see if they qualify for traditional Medicaid, or go healthcare.gov to apply for a federally subsidized plan. He said state Kynectors, who help people enroll, will continue the outreach through August.
Dustin Pugel, senior policy analyst at the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, encouraged Kentuckians who recently lost their temporary Medicaid coverage and are not covered by work or traditional Medicaid to “Run, not walk, to the marketplace to find an affordable option.”
Priscilla Easterling, the outreach coordinator for Kentucky Voices for Health and a Kynectoralso encouraged Kentuckians without health coverage to explore their options on healthcare.gov, especially those who looked at plans in the past and found them unaffordable at that time.

“With the increased subsidies that the American Rescue Plan included . . . we have seen so many people save a surprising amount of money,” Easterling said. “It is 100-percent worth just checking it out. . . . It’s a totally different ballgame.”

federal report says 34% of those who got a subsidized plan since April 1 paid $10 or less a month for their coverage, thanks to the American Rescue Plan’s premium reductions. In Kentucky, 32% of new customers and 19% of returning customers were able to find a plan for $10 or less per month.
In the special enrollment period, plans are more affordable due to bigger premium subsidies through tax credits, and no repayments are required if a tax return shows they didn’t qualify for the tax credit. Also, more people eligible for the subsidies, and costs are limited to no more than 8.5% of income, down from nearly 10%.
For the first time, the new rules allow those earning more than 400% of the federal poverty level — about $51,000 for an individual and $104,800 for a family of four in 2021 — to get a subsidized plan.
This change is especially helpful to older adults with incomes above 400% of the poverty level, because unlike traditional health plans, which are allowed to charge more based on age, special-enrollment premiums are capped at 8.5% of income.

“Compared to current premium payments, a 60-year-old with a $55,000 income would pay 77% less for a bronze plan ($146 vs. $634 per month), 56% less for a benchmark silver plan ($390 vs. $887 per month), and 52% less for a gold plan ($453 vs. $951 per month), on average,” says the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Also benefiting from this expansion to 400% of the poverty line are self-employed people who have not had access to affordable health insurance. “As wonderful as the Affordable Care Act was to open up affordable coverage for so many people,” Pugel said. “It really did leave that group of folks out.”
Through the end of June, 13,773 Kentuckians had signed up for health insurance during the special enrollment period, according to a federal report. That’s an increase from the special enrollment periods in 2020 and 2019, when 6,747 and 7,041 signed up, respectively.
But fewer than 10% of eligible Kentuckians have taken advantage of the opportunity. Easterling said about 115,000 Kentuckians who qualify for a subsidy under the special enrollment period have not yet signed up.
Nationwide, more than 2 million have signed up.

Open enrollment is usually in effect only six weeks at the end of a year, except for those who experience a “qualifying life event,” like getting married or losing a job. After the special enrollment period closes on Aug. 15, open enrollment will re-open Nov. 1.

Biden’s American Families Plan would make some of these measures permanent, including the bigger tax credits, coverage to those who earn 400% and above the federal poverty level, and the premium cap of 8.5% of household income. Those measures will stop at the end of 2022 unless Congress makes them permanent.

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