Covered California Re-Opens Enrollment Amid Expected Surge in Coronavirus Cases

March 24, 2020

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Source: The Sacramento Bee, by Cathie Anderson

Editors Note: Covered California issued an agent alert that consumers who enroll in health insurance coverage by March 31, 2020 will have an April 1 start date and WILL NOT be subject to the state tax penalty.

Covered California is launching a second open enrollment period, effective now, to offer health insurance coverage to all Californians as the state faces a surge in cases of COVID-19, the disease brought on by the new coronavirus.

“We want to get as many people covered as possible to ensure they have access to the health care they need,” said Peter V. Lee, executive director of Covered California. “Having more people insured is the right thing to do, and this action builds on our efforts to leave no one behind in California.”

This special enrollment period will last through June 30. Lee noted that those who sign up will still be eligible for new subsidies that Gov. Gavin Newsom and state legislators established last year as a way to help defray the cost of coverage.

Nationally, more than 70 health plans that serve more than 20 million poor and disadvantaged U.S. citizens called on the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to open a special enrollment period in the federal insurance marketplace serving more than 30 states.

“We’re already seeing stories of people who are afraid to come forward for testing or treatment because they do not have comprehensive health coverage,” said Margaret A. Murray, chief executive of the Association for Community Affiliated Plans, which serve the 70-plus safety net health plans.

Murray said that short-term ‘junk’ insurance plans are putting up barriers to paying for testing and care, leaving their customers liable for the bill. A federal special enrollment period will at least give people who hadn’t enrolled this year in coverage compliant with the Affordable Care Act the opportunity to do so.

Maryland, Massachusetts and Washington have also opened enrollment in their state-based exchanges for a limited period.

Medi-Cal renewals on hold

In addition to Covered California’s move, the state of California has put a 90-day hold on reviews of Medi-Cal renewals to make sure that individuals who already are enrolled can continue with their coverage. It also frees up state workers to process the anticipated new enrollments that will come during this period.

The California Department of Health Care Services, which runs Medi-Cal, also is seeking to expedite applications for senior citizens and other populations considered vulnerable to the disease. COVID-19 is a respiratory illness, and can cause coughing, shortness of breath and fever that can lead to pneumonia.

“The extraordinary challenges posed by COVID-19 demand an equally extraordinary response, and the Medi-Cal and Covered California systems are stepping up to meet the need for health coverage and ease access to services,” said Dr. Bradley P. Gilbert, director of the Department of Health Care Services.

It is not the first time Covered California has used a special enrollment to assist consumers. The state-based health insurance marketplace also did so in 2015 to allow Californians who had not signed up for any insurance plan to enroll and thus avoid tax penalties.

Created under the ACA, Covered California offers policies to those who qualify for coverage at subsidized rates. Typically, individuals can only sign up for coverage during open enrollment or if they have a qualifying life event such as a job loss.

Both consumer advocates and health plans commended Covered California for opening a special enrollment period. The California Association of Health Plans said Americans are experiencing unprecedented disruption in their lives because of COVID-19, from losing jobs to working from home.

Since the new coronavirus is spread through droplets, CAHP Chief Executive Officer Charles Bacchi said health plans also have expanded access to telehealth services to allow people to get advice without leaving their homes. When directed by physicians, the plans are also screening and testing for COVID-19 at no cost.

Consumer advocate Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California, urged state residents to take advantage of actions by DHS and Covered California.

“Families who have lost income and coverage should check out their options in Covered California, now with new state subsidies to provide additional affordability assistance,” he said. “Folks should sign up, so they can get the testing and treatment they need. If you or a family member need a hospitalization because of coronavirus or other reason, having any level of coverage can prevent financial ruin.”


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