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Md. Health Connection again extends special enrollment period

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

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

Maryland Health Connection is once again extending its special enrollment period, which initially began in March 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Larry Hogan and the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange announced on Monday. 

Effective immediately, all uninsured Marylanders will have the opportunity to enroll in a private health plan through March 15.

This is the fourth time the special enrollment period has been extended; it was originally scheduled to last only a month but was eventually extended through mid-December, nine months from when it first began. The decision to reopen the enrollment period was prompted by the high number of COVID-19 cases currently active in Maryland, as well as the continued unemployment crisis brought on by the pandemic.

“This additional special enrollment period is another way we are helping Marylanders weather the pandemic and come back stronger and healthier in the new year,” Hogan said in a press release.

Nearly 107,000 people in Maryland enrolled in health plans during the special enrollment period. Of that number, almost 35,000 enrolled in private health plans, which are typically only offered during an open enrollment period that spans from Nov. 1 to Dec. 15, while 72,000 enrolled in Medicaid, which is offered year-round.

Over the course of the previous special enrollment period, Black people — one of the populations hit hardest by the pandemic — were the highest racial demographic to take advantage of Maryland Health Connection’s services, according to Michele Eberle, executive director of the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange. Of the new enrollees, 31% were Black, followed by 26% white and 12% Hispanic. 

Eberle did note that race is an optional demographic field when enrolling with Maryland Health Connection, so these numbers may not be completely accurate. She also said that more people selected “Other” for their race than any other category.

The county that saw the most enrollment was Prince George’s, which had been Maryland’s coronavirus epicenter in the spring and is one of the state’s most populous counties.

Several other counties experienced increases in enrollment from 2019, including two that increased by over 10%: Queen Anne’s, which saw a 14.9% increase, and Frederick, with a 10.6% increase.

Because Maryland Health Connection allows Marylanders to enroll in Medicaid year-round, while they can only enroll in a private health plan during the open enrollment period, the special enrollment period did not affect people applying for Medicaid. 

However, Eberle said, the outreach that the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange has done surrounding the special enrollment period has made some people more aware of their health insurance options.

“Some folks … especially now that we’re in a situation where folks may have never applied for Medicaid before, may never have known that it was available (year-round),” she said.

It’s too soon to say if there will be another extension to the enrollment period when this one ends. The COVID-19 vaccine, Marylanders’ continued observance of public health guidelines, and the pandemic’s general trajectory will all play major roles in that decision. Eberle said she hopes that many people who lost their insurance during the pandemic get their jobs back and become insured by their employers in the coming months.

“It’s not the intention to have it just indefinitely, but there’s still a great need, and we can help folks get real peace of mind in knowing that they have health insurance,” Eberle said.

Uninsured Marylanders can enroll by calling 855-642-8572 or via MarylandHealthConnection.gov.

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