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Federal health care portal reopens for 3-month special enrollment period

Samantha Fields Feb 16, 2021
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As of Monday, through May 15, people in the 36 states that use HealthCare.gov can sign up for federal insurance plans. Joe Raedle/Getty Images
COVID-19

Federal health care portal reopens for 3-month special enrollment period

Samantha Fields Feb 16, 2021
Heard on:
As of Monday, through May 15, people in the 36 states that use HealthCare.gov can sign up for federal insurance plans. Joe Raedle/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

Normally, if you don’t have health insurance, you get one chance a year to sign up, during open enrollment. It’s usually a pretty short window in November and December.

But as of Monday, through May 15, people in the 36 states that use HealthCare.gov have another chance. The federal health insurance portal is open again, for a rare additional special enrollment period. But getting people to sign up takes more than just moving deadlines around.

The Biden Administration is encouraging states that run their own health exchanges to reopen enrollment, too.

Tara Straw at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said this special enrollment period is a big deal for the roughly 30 million people in the country who don’t have health insurance.

“This is a great opportunity for people to come into the marketplace and get coverage,” Straw said.

The Biden Administration is planning to spend millions on marketing and outreach to let people know they can get coverage and, possibly, help with paying for it.

“Something like two-thirds of uninsured people aren’t aware of the financial assistance that’s available and HealthCare.gov and the state-run marketplaces, so increasing consumer awareness can do a lot to help people enroll in coverage,” Straw said.

The Trump administration did very little marketing and outreach around open enrollment, and it cut way back on funding for navigators who help people sign up.

Vivian Ho, a health economist at Rice University and Baylor College of Medicine, said that help figuring out the marketplace is critical for a lot of people.

“Once you get in there and you start looking for coverage, it’s not straightforward,” Ho said. “It’s actually pretty challenging. And so you need those navigators to help walk people through.”

Restoring funding for navigators, marketing and outreach, Ho said, could make a big difference in getting more people insured.

Karen Pollitz at the Kaiser Family Foundation said Congress might also take action soon that would make insurance more affordable for even more people.

“As we speak, the Congress is working on COVID relief legislation that, among other things, would include improvements in marketplace subsidies, extend subsidies to people who aren’t eligible now,” Pollitz said.

If those measures pass in the final relief package, Pollitz said that could also lead to a meaningful increase in the number of people signing up for health insurance.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

So what’s up with “Zoom fatigue”?

It’s a real thing. The science backs it up — there’s new research from Stanford University. So why is it that the technology can be so draining? Jeremy Bailenson with Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab puts it this way: “It’s like being in an elevator where everyone in the elevator stopped and looked right at us for the entire elevator ride at close-up.” Bailenson said turning off self-view and shrinking down the video window can make interactions feel more natural and less emotionally taxing.

How are Americans spending their money these days?

Economists are predicting that pent-up demand for certain goods and services is going to burst out all over as more people get vaccinated. A lot of people had to drastically change their spending in the pandemic because they lost jobs or had their hours cut. But at the same time, most consumers “are still feeling secure or optimistic about their finances,” according to Candace Corlett, president of WSL Strategic Retail, which regularly surveys shoppers. A lot of people enjoy browsing in stores, especially after months of forced online shopping. And another area expecting a post-pandemic boost: travel.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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