A Special Enrollment Period for Hurricane Victims


October 18, 2017

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) announced recently that people affected by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria may be eligible for a special enrollment period for Medicare as well as the health insurance exchanges. These changes could make it easier for those most seriously affected by the 2017 hurricane season to manage their healthcare.

Extended Enrollment for Medicare

Victims of the hurricanes in Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands were allowed to enroll, cancel their plan or switch Medicare plans without waiting for annual enrollment to open on October 15. In addition, Medicare enrollees have until December 31 to enroll or change their plans as opposed to those not in hurricane-ravaged areas who must make changes by December 7. Individuals who need to enroll in marketplace plans may also be able to obtain coverage during the special enrollment if they have been affected by the hurricane season. Anyone who qualifies for the extension may sign up, unenroll or change their health or prescription drug plans.

Insurance Marketplace

Those who need to enroll in a marketplace plan for 2017 have until the end of the year to finish processing applications that they may have begun before the hurricanes hit. The ACA allows anyone with a life change outside the enrollment period to sign up or change their coverage during the year. A life change could include the birth of a child, a death in the family or a move that leaves you without access to your current plan. The new enrollment period will allow anyone who was affected by the storm to enroll in a plan or make changes from now until the end of the year. For example, if you had to relocate because of the storm, you can switch to a plan where you live now to avoid a lapse in coverage.

Only Federal Exchanges

All states affected by the hurricanes with the exception of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are eligible for the extension as those states chose not to set up their own state marketplace and use only the federal marketplace for insurance. In Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, residents are not eligible for the federal marketplace although they are eligible for Medicare and Medicaid. According to CMS, the enrollment period officially began the first day they suffered an incident due to the storm.

Reason for Extension

CMS said that they decided to extend the enrollment period to those areas to allow residents to change coverage or immediately sign up for Medicare or Medicaid due to their changed circumstances after the devastation. Because many people in those areas are facing joblessness or homelessness after the storms, their economic circumstances may have changed, making them eligible for subsidies or plans they may not have been eligible for before.

If you have been affected by Hurricane Harvey, Irma or Maria, you can call 1-800-MEDICARE (800-633-4227) to request enrollment or 1-800-318-2596 to sign up for coverage. In order to be eligible for the extension, you must reside or have resided in the affected areas at the time of the hurricane.