[WASHINGTON, D.C.] — U.S. Representative Pramila Jayapal (WA-07) and a group of over 100 lawmakers wrote to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar to urge HHS to employ its existing authority to establish a Special Enrollment Period for patients to seek Affordable Care Act Marketplace coverage during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This is particularly important for the 38 states covered by the federal exchange, since the Trump Administration truncated the enrollment period and eliminated almost all of the public information effort to encourage enrollment. The states who operate their own exchanges are empowered to expand their enrollment periods, but an HHS established enrollment period would apply nationwide. This week, Washington and Massachusetts wisely opened enrollment for their state exchanges. This is going to affect every state; the time to open a special enrollment period nationwide is now. HHS has previously opened federal enrollment periods following other disasters such as Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Dorian.
“Many among the close to 30 million Americans living without insurance and estimated 44 million who are underinsured would benefit from such a declaration,” the lawmakers write. “As outbreaks emerge and community spread continues in the United States, our most vulnerable neighbors are those who lack comprehensive health coverage. Without that coverage, they are unlikely to seek treatment for COVID-19, leaving all in our community at risk.”
Full letter here and below:
We write to urge you to establish a Special Enrollment Period to be applicable to all Affordable Care Act Marketplace coverage, including those using healthcare.gov as well as state-based marketplaces, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many among the close to 30 million Americans living without insurance and estimated 44 million who are underinsured would benefit from such a declaration. As outbreaks emerge and community spread continues in the United States, our most vulnerable neighbors are those who lack comprehensive health coverage. Without that coverage, they are unlikely to seek treatment for COVID-19, leaving all in our community at risk.
You declared COVID-19 a public health emergency on January 31st. Responding to that emergency must include ensuring access to insurance coverage so patients can seek treatment for COVID-19. There is precedent for HHS declaring a Special Enrollment Period during an emergency. In 2017, HHS established a Special Enrollment Period for patients living in areas FEMA deemed eligible for assistance following Hurricanes Irma, Maria, Nate, and Harvey. Similarly, a Special Enrollment Period was established in 2019 for areas affected by Hurricane Dorian.
Providing an opportunity for more Americans to seek health coverage is an important step in assuring public health during this crisis. Without effective action, we are concerned that Americans will not be adequately protected against current and future coronavirus outbreaks. We look forward to your response.