Lawmakers Seek Reopening of Obamacare Exchanges
Say COVID-19 Demands Special Enrollment Period
Washington, DC – As the coronavirus pandemic continues gripping the nation, dozens of lawmakers are calling on the Trump Administration to reopen state-level health insurance exchanges run by the federal government. In a letter led by Reps. Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY) and Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), sixty-five Democratic House lawmakers requested that the Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services provide an emergency special enrollment period so Americans can sign up for health coverage.
“Now, more than ever, it is vital that our neighbors be able to secure health insurance, especially to cover costs associated with treatment and testing for coronavirus,” said Velázquez. “Sadly, in crises like these, the most vulnerable often suffer the greatest hardship. No one should be dissuaded from seeking treatment or testing for coronavirus due to costs. Given the unprecedented public health crisis facing the nation, it only makes sense to let more people enroll and obtain affordable care.”
“COVID-19 is the biggest public health and economic crisis our country has ever faced,” said Congresswoman DeLauro. “The last thing people should have to worry about at this uncertain time is how they and their loved ones will access healthcare if they need it. The Trump administration can help put people at ease by opening a national special enrollment period given these unprecedented circumstances. I urge them to do so immediately.”
Several states that operate their own exchanges have already opened special enrollments, allowing those without insurance to purchase a plan even without a life changing event, the usual requirement. Those states include California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington. However, thirty-two states have federally-facilitated health insurance marketplaces. Those states would need HHS and CMS to act for a special enrollment period to be opened.
The letter with a list of all signatories is online here. The text is below.
The Honorable Alex Azar
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
200 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20201
The Honorable Seema Verma
Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services
7500 Security Blvd.
Baltimore, MD 21244
Dear Secretary Azar and Administrator Verma:
We write to you today with grave concerns regarding your administration’s recent decision not to reopen the state-level health insurance exchanges run by the federal government. Yesterday, the Labor Department reported that unemployment claims soared to a record 6.6 million due to the COVID-19 public health crisis and ensuing economic fallout. With growing fears that people will be uninsured during the coronavirus outbreak, we urge you to allow individuals who are at-risk for COVID-19 to access affordable health care options through the health insurance marketplaces with a special enrollment period.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2017 the number of people without health insurance increased to 28.0 million, up from 27.3 million the year before. Of that number, about 1 in 3 uninsured workers were in service occupations. Despite individuals qualifying for a special enrollment period for losing job-based coverage, 1 in 3 Americans will remain uninsured. Given the crisis at hand, CMS should authorize an emergency special enrollment period to ensure that all Americans have access to affordable health insurance that will cover needed health care services for testing and treatment, especially now.
The federal government has opened special enrollment periods in the past during previous declared major disasters or emergencies, claiming exceptional circumstances. On January 31, 2020, Secretary Azar declared a nationwide public health emergency under Section 319 of the Public Health Service Act. As of Friday afternoon, more than 258,000 people in the United States have been infected, and at least 6,593 have died—the COVID-19 pandemic should be considered an exceptional circumstance.
Medical costs are already a common concern in the U.S., particularly for people without insurance. The Kaiser foundation projects that the cost of inpatient admissions for COVID-19 treatment could top $20,0004. This is an unprecedent financial constraint that could prevent millions of people from seeing doctors to get tested or treated. We urge HHS and CMS to establish a special enrollment period for the coronavirus and rightfully extend the opportunity for millions of uninsured Americans to newly seek out coverage.
Thank you for your attention to this critical issue and we look forward to your response.