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Spanberger Calls on Administration to Open ACA Special Enrollment Period to Combat Pandemic

Unless HHS Opens Up a Special Enrollment Period, Central Virginians Would Need to Wait Until November to Purchase New or Updated Insurance Plans

Washington, March 18, 2020

HENRICO, V.A. – U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger is calling on the administration to open a special enrollment period for individual health insurance signups due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the need to provide affordable coverage to those who might be at risk of developing the disease.

Unless the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) opens a special enrollment period, Central Virginians would need to wait until November 2020 to purchase new or updated marketplace insurance plans. According to a 2020 report from the Virginia Healthcare Foundation, approximately 712,000 Virginians under the age of 65 did not have health insurance in 2018 —and more than 64 percent of these uninsured residents are part of working families. Many of these families are eligible for subsidized plans through the ACA Marketplace.

In a letter sent to HHS Secretary Alex Azar, Spanberger urged Secretary Azar to establish a special enrollment period for patients seeking ACA Marketplace coverage as this public health emergency continues. HHS has previously opened federal enrollment periods following disasters such as Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Dorian.

“Many among the close to 30 million Americans living without insurance and estimated 44 million who are underinsured would benefit from such a declaration,” stated Spanberger and her colleagues. “As outbreaks emerge and community spread continues in the United States, our most vulnerable neighbors are those who lack comprehensive health coverage. Without that coverage, they are unlikely to seek treatment for COVID-19, leaving all in our community at risk.”

The letter continues, “Providing an opportunity for more Americans to seek health coverage is an important step in assuring public health during this crisis. Without effective action, we are concerned that Americans will not be adequately protected against current and future coronavirus outbreaks.”

The Spanberger-signed letter is led by U.S. Representative Lloyd Doggett (D-TX-35), Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee’s Subcommittee on Health. More than 100 of Spanberger’s colleagues in the U.S. House also signed the letter.

Click here to read the full letter, and the full text is also provided below.

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Dear Secretary Azar:

We write to urge you to establish a Special Enrollment Period to be applicable to all Affordable Care Act Marketplace coverage, including those using healthcare.gov as well as state-based marketplaces, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many among the close to 30 million Americans living without insurance[1] and estimated 44 million who are underinsured[2] would benefit from such a declaration. As outbreaks emerge and community spread continues in the United States, our most vulnerable neighbors are those who lack comprehensive health coverage. Without that coverage, they are unlikely to seek treatment for COVID-19, leaving all in our community at risk.

You declared COVID-19 a public health emergency on January 31st. Responding to that emergency must include ensuring access to insurance coverage so patients can seek treatment for COVID-19. There is precedent for HHS declaring a Special Enrollment Period during an emergency. In 2017, HHS established a Special Enrollment Period for patients living in areas FEMA deemed eligible for assistance following Hurricanes Irma, Maria, Nate, and Harvey. Similarly, a Special Enrollment Period was established in 2019 for areas affected by Hurricane Dorian.

Providing an opportunity for more Americans to seek health coverage is an important step in assuring public health during this crisis. Without effective action, we are concerned that Americans will not be adequately protected against current and future coronavirus outbreaks. We look forward to your response.

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BACKGROUND

Last week, Spanberger held a telephone town hall on the coronavirus outbreak with local healthcare experts from the University of Virginia, Virginia Department of Health, and Mary Washington Healthcare. The event provided constituents with an opportunity to ask questions, seek clarity, and learn more about how best to protect themselves and their families during the continued spread of coronavirus across the Commonwealth. More than 2,000 Central Virginians dialed in to participate in the town hall remotely.  

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