WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — Millions of Americans who have lost health insurance in an economy shaken by the coronavirus can sign up for taxpayer-subsidized coverage starting Sunday.
It’s not a new COVID relief program from the government but the return of annual sign-up season under the Affordable Care Act. Open enrollment lasts through Dec. 15.
Consumers can now log in to HealthCare.gov and CuidadodeSalud.gov or call 1-800-318-2596 to fill out an application and enroll in a 2021 Exchange health plan for coverage starting as soon as January 1, 2021.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which runs HealthCare.gov, says current enrollees who don’t update their application and enroll in a plan by the December 15, 2020 Open Enrollment deadline generally will be automatically enrolled in the same plan or another plan offered by the same issuer that is intended to be similar, and if that is not available, another plan with a different insurance company.
The CMS says premiums are down slightly on average for 2021 and most people will have at least three insurers from which to pick plans. Lower-income people and even middle-class families may qualify for tax credits that can greatly reduce what they pay monthly for premiums.
Hard numbers on how virus-related job losses have affected health coverage are not available because the most reliable government surveys will not be out until next year. Estimates range from 5 million to 10 million newly uninsured people. That’s on top of 26 million uninsured last year, before the pandemic, or about 8% of the U.S. population.
Administration officials say HealthCare.gov is open for business and ready to handle sign-ups online or via its call center.
“We’ll be working through the upcoming open enrollment period…to ensure a smooth user experience,” CMS Administrator Seema Verma said.
More than 11 million people currently have coverage through HealthCare.gov and state-run health insurance markets offering subsidized private plans. The health law also covers another 12 million people through its Medicaid expansion, adopted by all but 12 states.
Medicaid enrollment has gone up by nearly 4 million people since March, but it’s still unclear how many laid-off workers are coping after the loss of employer coverage in the coronavirus economy.
Those who are healthy most likely have other priorities, such as finding another job. Workers who were furloughed, but not laid off, may have been able to keep their coverage. Some appear to have switched to a spouse’s plan, and those age 65 and older can get on Medicare.
The nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that 80% of those who lost workplace health insurance are eligible for coverage under the law, either through the insurance markets or Medicaid.
Some private businesses, such as HealthSherpa.com, have created a niche market helping people enroll in HealthCare.gov plans. Former Obama administration officials are trying to promote sign-ups through GetAmericaCovered.org. Community organizations also play a role helping people with paperwork.
The Associated Press contributed to this report