Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh has joined a multistate coalition calling on the federal government to increase healthcare coverage outreach in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
A letter was sent to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and its Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), urging them to immediately develop and implement an outreach plan to inform millions of Americans who have lost, or may lose, their employer-sponsored health insurance coverage about the Special Enrollment Period available to them through Healthcare.gov, the federal Exchange, and state-based marketplaces.
In the letter, the attorneys general highlight the importance of providing families with the information and tools they need to navigate their health care options and access coverage during the unprecedented international health care crisis posed by COVID-19.
“Many Americans have lost their jobs, their health insurance and their ability to pay for health care because of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Attorney General Frosh. “It’s imperative for HHS to let Americans know they are eligible to enroll in coverage.”
In the letter, the attorneys general highlight that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) provides the flexibility necessary to help people wrestling with the loss of their livelihood and their family’s health care coverage during this critical time.
The ACA requires the HHS Secretary to provide yearly open enrollment periods on the Exchanges to permit individuals to enroll in new or different health care coverage.
Outside of this period, individuals may enroll in coverage through the Exchange only if they qualify for a Special Enrollment Period due to certain life events such as loss of employment that offered health care coverage.
As most Americans obtain their health care coverage through their employer, the coalition urges the HHS to inform the public of the potential for replacing coveragethrough Healthcare.gov or, in Maryland, marylandhealthconnection.gov.
In 2018, over half of individuals under age 65 had insurance through an employer.
The importance of this outreach will only increase as the economic upheaval of this crisis continues to expand. A new study by Health Management Associates estimates that the number of people receiving coverage from an employer could decline by up to 35 million due to layoffs caused by the pandemic.
The same study estimates that the economic impact to the labor market could disproportionately impact the roughly 58 million non-elderly individuals who have employer-sponsored coverage and who earn less than $50,000 per year. This heavily hit population could greatly benefit from navigating their options on the Exchanges where they may qualify for subsidies to help pay for health care coverage.
The coalition expresses concern that, without immediate and widespread outreach, Americans who have recently been laid off will remain unaware of the Special Enrollment Period and not access needed health care coverage.
Evidence shows that marketplace advertising and consumer assistance increases enrollment numbers and stabilizes markets. For this reason, states that run their own Exchanges, like Maryland, continue to invest heavily in marketing and outreach to support their state-based marketplaces.
The attorneys general urge HHS to empower individuals and working families across the country to pursue the best coverage option for them, whether it is Exchange coverage, COBRA, Medicare, Medicaid, or the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
While the federal government’s promise to reimburse for the testing and treatment of COVID-19 for the uninsured is a step in the right direction, the letter emphasizes that it will not help provide these Americans the comprehensive health care they need, and could leave many families with large hospital and insurance bills in the long term.
In sending the letter, Attorney General Frosh joins the attorneys general of California, Michigan, North Carolina, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington.