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Md. offers insurance enrollment period during coronavirus pandemic

Michele Eberle, executive director of the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange. (André Chung)

Michele Eberle, executive director of the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange.
(André Chung)

Marylanders without health insurance have an extra opportunity to purchase it on the state’s individual market as the state offers a special enrollment period amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Maryland Health Benefit Exchange announced the extra enrollment period will begin Monday and run for 30 days through April 15. There are no preconditions on people enrolling during this period.

“This is not (just) for someone who has been diagnosed. This is for anybody,” said Michele Eberle, the exchange’s executive director. “Anybody on the individual marketplace that doesn’t have health insurance today and is concerned and wishes they would have gotten it last fall, this is an opportunity.”

The exchange enrolled about 215,000 people during the open enrollment period for coverage this year, an increase of 1%. But those numbers included a 2% decline in the number of young adult enrollees.

Eberle hopes that “especially those young, invincible folks who elected not to get coverage” take advantage of the special enrollment period to get covered.

Maryland’s uninsurance rate is 6%, or about 300,000 people.

For people who purchase insurance during this period, their coverage will begin April 1, regardless of whether they purchase in March or April.

This special enrollment period will also run concurrent with another special enrollment period that was created for people who sign up for coverage through the state’s easy enrollment program. Under that program tax filers can check a box that says they do not have coverage and would like more information about receiving coverage.

“This special enrollment period complements the easy enrollment law,” said Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative, which pushed for the creation of the easy enrollment program. “What every uninsured person should do right now is go to marylandhealthconnection.gov and figure out how they can get insured. Everybody must do that to protect themselves and all of us.”

At least 18,000 people checked that box through the beginning of March, according to numbers released by the exchange last week.

Maryland can have these special enrollment periods because it runs its own health exchange. The federal government has not declared a special enrollment period, and people in states that use the federal marketplace cannot buy insurance right now.

The Maryland exchange will also be monitoring the situation as the period continues to see whether it will be enough, Eberle said.

“We’re in unprecedented times,” she said. “We encourage anyone who doesn’t have health insurance and missed the open enrollment window to take advantage.”

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