Maryland opens new enrollment window for uninsured residents

In an effort to help uninsured residents weather the pandemic and a harsh economic climate, Maryland has opened a special health insurance signup window.

It’s the second time since the COVID-19 crisis began that the state has made special provisions for consumers to purchase a health plan.

Typically, consumers who want to purchase coverage on the individual market can only do so in the fall.

The new window, announced on Friday, will run until Dec. 15.

“The people of our great state have endured so many personal, medical, and economic challenges, and this crisis is not yet behind us,” said Gov. Larry Hogan (R) in a statement.

“Reopening the special enrollment period is another way we are helping Marylanders weather this storm, get back on their feet, and recover.”

More than 54,000 consumers purchased health insurance during the state’s first special enrollment window, which ran from mid-March, when COVID-19 infections began to spread, through July 15.

Health care advocates say individuals and families who have insurance are far less likely to endure financial hardships. And they say the entire system benefits because fewer people receive uncompensated care — typically high-cost treatment in hospital emergency departments after they become ill.

“As Maryland continues to battle this global pandemic, we would like to make it as easy as possible for uninsured Marylanders to address their health concerns by reopening the coronavirus special enrollment period to help our Maryland families get the health coverage they need,” said Michele Eberle, executive director of Maryland Health Benefit Exchange.

The extended signup period is good for public health, said a leading health care advocate.

“This is one of the best ways to help keep Marylanders healthy in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative.

Maryland is one of several states to open a special sign-up period.

New York, whose governor, Andrew Cuomo (D) became chairman of the National Governors Association this week, opened a month-long window on July 15.

California’s enrollment period closed on July 31. Vermont consumers can purchase coverage through Aug. 14. The District of Columbia’s enrollment window closes on Sept. 15.

Hogan’s office said Maryland’s twin sign-up windows represent the longest of any state in the nation related to the coronavirus emergency.

Although COVID-19 is the worst pandemic to hit the U.S. in a century, the Trump administration has repeatedly petitioned the Supreme Court to declare the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional.

HealthCare.gov, the ACA web portal most states use, has rejected calls from Democratic members of Congress, health care advocates and consumer groups to follow the states’ lead.

In March, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, which runs the federal marketplace, told NPR it is not offering a special enrollment period, but continues to “evaluate options” in light of the coronavirus outbreak.

Four months later, in July, a CMS spokesperson told AARP the agency is “evaluating the idea.”

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