Gripped By COVID-19, NYS, Other States Reopen Obamacare Enrollment

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo gets a briefing from Michael Kopy, the New York State Director of Emergency Management, in New Rochelle
Governor Andrew Cuomo and Michael Kopy, the New York State director of emergency management, in suburban New Rochelle on March 13 as the state opened its first coronavirus mobile testing center.
Reuters/ Mark Vergari/ The Journal News/ USA Today

In an effort to beef up healthcare coverage in response to COVD-19, some northeastern states — including New York and Connecticut — have launched special Obamacare enrollment periods.

New York State officials said they moved ahead with the plans in order to ensure that folks in the state would not avoid seeking healthcare due to costs. Governor Andrew Cuomo has waived cost-sharing for COVID-19 testing and the US Senate approved a measure to make testing free nationwide, though such tests remain frustratingly scarce despite reassurances that larger waves of tests are forthcoming.

“With a pandemic spreading through the US, it’s important to ensure that healthcare is available to everyone who needs it,” said Donna Frescatore, the executive director of New York State of Health, which is the state’s healthcare exchange. “This special enrollment period will provide New Yorkers with another opportunity to sign up for high-quality, affordable health insurance.”

The original enrollment period in New York concluded on February 7. The special enrollment period in New York is already in effect and will last until April 15, and coverage for new enrollees goes into effect on April 1. The state also reminded residents that those who are eligible for Medicaid, the Essential Plan, and Child Health Plus are able to enroll any time of the year.

Meanwhile, Connecticut’s special enrollment period will take place from March 19 to April 2 for coverage that begins on April 1.

In New Jersey, where the state exchange is tied to the federal government, Governor Phil Murphy has asked the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to approve a special enrollment period in that state.

And while Pennsylvania has not opened up a special enrollment period, northeast Philadelphia Congressmember Brendan Boyle, a Democrat, has called on Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to create one.

Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, and Washington are also among states that have launched special enrollment periods.

For each of the states, the enrollment period is eyed with a focus on assisting those who are uninsured. The move comes following significant economic turbulence sparked by the coronavirus. The outbreak has prompted orders forcing restaurants, bars, and many other entertainment establishments to temporarily shut down, leading to mass layoffs and a spike in unemployment claims. Mayor Bill de Blasio has even raised the specter of shelter-in-place order for the five boroughs.

“Ensuring access to affordable and quality medical care for all New Yorkers is a top priority during this state of emergency,” the superintendent of New York’s Department of Financial Services, Linda A. Lacewell, said in a written statement. “Under Governor Cuomo’s leadership, we have established a special enrollment period, providing uninsured New Yorkers an opportunity to select a New York State health insurance provider to access diagnostic testing and care they may need.”

There have been 2,481 cases tallied in New York, 427 in New Jersey, 68 in Connecticut, and 133 in Pennsylvania. Nationwide, 8,034 cases have been counted.

However, the lack of testing means the actual number of cases is believed to be significantly higher.