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U.S. Considers Special Enrollment Period for Affordable Care Act Due to Coronavirus Spread

The Wall Street Journal. logo The Wall Street Journal. 3/21/2020 Stephanie Armour
Anthony S. Fauci, Brett Giroir are posing for a picture © joshua roberts/Reuters

The Trump administration is considering the launch of a special enrollment period for people to sign up for health coverage under the Affordable Care Act because of the new coronavirus crisis, a Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services spokeswoman said Saturday.

At least nine states that run their own exchanges where people can go to buy health coverage have said they would let people obtain coverage under the ACA even though the enrollment season has passed. But most states rely on the federal government to run their exchanges and need approval to initiate a special sign-up period.

A decision to open enrollment could boost the number of people with coverage because 32 states rely solely on the federal exchange.

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“CMS is evaluating offering a Special Enrollment Period specifically designated for Covid-19,” the spokeswoman said, referring to the disease caused by the coronavirus. “We will continue to work with states and health plans around the country to assess what additional actions are necessary to ensure the American people have coverage for and access to the services they need during this time.”

Scores of people are losing jobs or seeing their work hours reduced as states and the administration urge social distancing to help reduce the spread of coronavirus. The job losses are expected to mean a surge of people who will lose employer coverage and turn to Medicaid or the individual insurance market for plans.

Open enrollment for states that use the federal exchange ended on Dec. 15 and people generally can’t buy plans beyond that date unless they have a major life change such as a job loss. A special enrollment period because of coronavirus would be aimed partly at ensuring people don’t put off getting tested or treated because they don’t have health insurance.

About 30 million people are uninsured. More than eight million people signed up for coverage through the federal exchange, healthcare.gov, during the open-enrollment season.

Some states and health insurers have been pressing the administration to launch a special enrollment period because the majority of people who buy ACA coverage also get subsidies to help with premiums.

The interest in a special enrollment period comes as the Trump administration supports litigation aimed at invalidating the Obama-era health law. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case brought by Republican-led states. Monday marks the 10-year anniversary of the signing of the law.

Write to Stephanie Armour at stephanie.armour@wsj.com

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