The COVID-19 public health emergency has triggered a new opportunity for people to enroll in marketplace health care coverage this year if they missed the chance during open enrollment last fall.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois outreach teams are making people aware of their options. Karen Travit, a senior field advocate for BCBSIL, says she and her colleagues on the Think Blue team are re-energized and resuming where they left off in December.
“The main thing is to explain the importance of health insurance,” Travit says. The team is working days, nights and weekends until the deadline to help the uninsured in Illinois, many of whom qualify for financial help under the Affordable Care Act.
In a typical year, people can sign up for coverage outside of the open enrollment period only after certain changes in their lives — such as loss of health coverage, relocation or addition of child to coverage. These qualifying events trigger a special enrollment period.
This year, President Joe Biden called for a special enrollment period, or SEP, to help make sure people have access to coverage during the difficult health and economic circumstances caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The SEP will run through Aug. 15 to give people more time to take advantage of expanded subsidies included in the recent $1.9 trillion stimulus package.
Anyone who qualifies for marketplace coverage may enroll without a qualifying event. This gives the Think Blue team a chance to reconnect with consumers who didn’t sign up before the window closed in December. It also may help families re-evaluate their coverage and find better options.
The team is holding online educational and enrollment events and participating in podcasts in partnership with community organizations. They’re also scheduling one-on-one virtual appointments, as well as corresponding with consumers by phone, email, mail and FaceTime in both English and Spanish.
They also hope to resume in-person events and activities later this year as safety permits. Until then, they intend to keep using every other tool they can find to reach people.
“We’re trying to follow technology and find good ways to connect with consumers,” says Denyse Maxey, BCBSIL senior market delivery manager.
A chance to reconnect
Nationally, an estimated 15 million uninsured people are eligible to buy coverage through the marketplace. About nine million of them qualify for reduced-cost or even $0 monthly premiums, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis.
Before the pandemic, roughly 9% of Illinois residents did not have health insurance, according the U.S. Census Bureau.
About 13% of the state’s uninsured already had access to a bronze-level plan with $0 premiums after subsidies, Kaiser’s data indicates.
With the expanded subsidies under the American Rescue Plan Act, almost 20,000 additional Illinois residents are eligible for $0 premiums.
Many parents have coverage for their children but not for themselves, Travit says, and she encourages them to consider options for covering the whole family. “You want to make sure you’re taken care of,” she says. “You have to take care of yourself before you can take care of those around you.”