Biden admin reopens ACA marketplace for special enrollment period


February 1, 2021

President Joe Biden signed an executive order on Thursday, January 28th, that directed the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to reopen the federal health insurance exchanges later this month. This special enrollment period (SEP) is assumed to be akin to the open enrollment period that ended for most of the country on December 15, 2020.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) will reopen the federal exchanges on February 15th. Consumers will then have until May 15th to apply for new coverage or update an existing application. They can do this through the federal exchange or via direct enrollment channels.

Open enrollment for 2021 coverage ended on December 15th for most of the country. In some states with state-based marketplaces, enrollment lasted longer. But as of January 31st, the annual enrollment period to buy health insurance for 2021 ended in all states.

About 8.3 million people bought health insurance through the federal marketplace at during open enrollment. 

That’s according to CMS data reported at the end of the annual signup period. The report does not include information for the states with their own exchanges. This year’s federal enrollment tally represents an increase in signups (7%) over the same period last year.

The federal health insurance marketplace currently serves 36 states. Consumers living in these states will be able to take advantage of the new special enrollment period that starts February 15th. CMS is strongly encouraging states that run their own exchanges to make an SEP available to their residents.

CMS also plans to spend $50 million on outreach for the new special enrollment period. Under the Trump administration, the budget for outreach and education during the open enrollment period had been drastically cut. With renewed emphasis on outreach, the current administration wants to target a broader range of consumers for the upcoming SEP.

Consumers always have the option to use a special enrollment period for certain scenarios, like losing a job or getting married. The COVID-19 pandemic saw millions of people lose their jobs, a qualifying event on its own.

According to data compiled by the Kaiser Family Foundation, about 4 million people without current coverage could qualify for health insurance with a $0 premium thanks to federal subsidies. An additional 4.9 million could buy a bronze plan with subsidies to lower the cost.

Together, these groups of uninsured Americans represent about 60% of the uninsured, marketplace-eligible population. The remaining 40% do not qualify for marketplace assistance and would have to cover the cost of premiums on their own.

The new special enrollment period will start February 15th. People eligible for Medicaid or CHIP programs, which are joint federal and state programs for low-income households, can sign up anytime during the year.