Since the Affordable Care Act’s full implementation in 2014, Americans in need of health coverage have been able to take advantage of the law’s annual open enrollment period to sign up for a plan. That very first open enrollment period in 2013-2014 was famously marked by HealthCare.Gov website glitches, which prevented millions of anxious enrollees from being able to complete enrollment until nearly the end. However, by 2016, open enrollment operated like a well-oiled machine: the website ran smoothly, seasoned enrollment assisters were available to help consumers enroll, and advertising about financial help and open enrollment deadlines blanketed billboards and bus stops and filled radio and television ads. By 2017, open enrollment took another uncertain turn, as President Trump took office and Congress pursued a repeal-and-replace effort, insurers became hesitant to participate in a market that may be repealed, and the Trump administration got to work to defund key outreach and enrollment programs, shorten the open enrollment period, and cut off all advertising efforts. Despite these changes, ACA enrollment remained remarkably steady, there was no mass exodus of consumers, and insurer participation has actually increased over the last few years.
The eighth open enrollment period begins Sunday, November 1st, and it might just be the most challenging year yet. The COVID pandemic has caused millions of Americans to lose their jobs, have their hours cut, or have been laid off, leaving many without their job-based health coverage. While funding for outreach and advertising remains extremely limited by the Trump administration, the little enrollment help that remains must now operate in a nearly virtual environment. Election Day is two days after open enrollment begins, and the following week the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case attempting to strike down the entire law. Despite all of this uncertainty, open enrollment is charging ahead – and those who need health coverage will have the opportunity to sign up for a plan over the next six weeks. Here are the key things to know about open enrollment this year:
- Open enrollment begins November 1 and ends December 15. Consumers who are uninsured or who need to renew their plans can do so at HealthCare.Gov starting November 1. Some states have extended deadlines after December 15, however, you must sign up for converge by December 15 in order to have your plan begin on January 1, 2021. So don’t delay!
- Expect premiums to look pretty similar to last year – or even decrease. Despite concerns that insurers would react with premium increases due to the Coronavirus public health crisis, premiums appear to remain steady for 2021, and may have even decreased in some areas.
- Coverage is probably more affordable than you think. In addition to steady premiums, most enrollees will qualify for tax credits to lower their monthly costs. Last year, about 8 in 10 enrollees qualified for financial help, and 2 in 3 shoppers could find a plan for $10 a month or less. Folks who are new to shopping for coverage on their own may not realize how affordable coverage can be, affordability messages will be key to helping people get covered this year.
- All ACA plans must cover key benefits like mental health care, maternity care, and prescription drugs. All ACA plans must include a key package of benefits – so you know you’re getting a comprehensive plan. But be careful – some websites will also sell “short-term plans” which do not have to include these core benefits and can discriminate based on your health history. That’s why it’s important to always shop at HealthCare.gov – the official health insurance marketplace.
- The ACA protects you from discrimination based on pre-existing conditions – just make sure you enroll at HealthCare.Gov. The ACA’s provisions that protect you from pre-existing condition discrimination are still the law of the land. Always shop, enroll and renew at HealthCare.gov to make sure you’re covered.
Over 10 million people signed up for coverage during last year’s open enrollment period, and this year could see the highest increase in uninsured individuals looking for coverage since year one. Yet at the same time, there are fewer resources available, and overall awareness of open enrollment remains abysmally low. It will take an all-hands-on-deck effort to ensure that everyone who needs coverage can get covered. If you are uninsured, sign up for a plan at HealthCare.gov as soon as possible. Once you’re covered, help us spread the word – we have tons of resources and messaging available here. Want to share your #GetCovered story? You can do so here. In a year of uncertainty, health coverage can provide peace of mind, let’s do everything we can to spread that peace.