Special open enrollment period reopens the door to health coverage

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U.S. President Joseph Biden has opened a special Affordable Care Act enrollment period to run until May 15, and the USF College of Public Health’s (COPH) Florida Covering Kids & Families (FL-CKF) program is ready to assist.

FL-CKF manages the USF State Navigator Program and seven other organizations (collectively referred to as the “Covering Florida” consortium) that provide Navigator services across Florida.

Jodi Ray, director of FL-CKF, says this special open enrollment period (SEP) is open to everyone using the healthcare.gov platform specifically.

Still of the healthcare.gov website.

“This SEP is in response to the COVID-19 public health emergency, which has left millions facing health problems, uncertainty and exceptional circumstances,” she said. “Consumers who enroll under this SEP will be able to select a plan with coverage that starts prospectively the first of the month after plan selection.”

She also says consumers will have 30 days after they submit their application to choose a plan.

“This SEP will not involve any new application questions or require consumers to provide any new information not otherwise needed to determine eligibility and enroll in coverage. Nor will they have to provide any information documenting a qualifying event, which is typically required for a special enrollment period,” Ray said.

Ray and her team of navigators are primarily booking virtual and phone appointments; however, they have adjusted their efforts accordingly to meet consumer needs.

Director of the FL-CKF program Jodi Ray. (Photo courtesy of USF Health)

“The reality is not everyone can be served that way,” she said. “We live in a state where there is still a digital divide. Lack of access to broadband and varying levels of both computer literacy and health insurance literacy can make reviewing, for example, 105 plans in Hillsborough County, very difficult. This is especially true when you add in language and cultural differences. Our job is to help everyone who needs help and do it in the way that is best for the individual.”

But, preventing the spread of COVID-19 while attending to those needs has also been on the forefront.

“As public health workers, we understand that we have to take the safety of both the consumer and staff seriously. While the COPH has really helped us with setting up our office safely, we are still trying to give as many consumers as possible those remote appointments,” she said.

Anyone who needs assistance in getting health coverage through the marketplace should call Covering Florida at 877-813-9115 or go on the website (coveringflorida.org) and book directly with a navigator closest to their zip code.

Ray said she anticipates longer enrollment periods in the future, given the change in administration in the White House. She also noted that past enrollment periods had gone down to as little as six weeks during the Trump administration. 

Last year, the project enrolled 2,788 consumers, and the two previous years before that 2,708 and 3,879 consumers.

“Of course, before 2017, the resources for enrollment and outreach were significantly higher, and so were our enrollment numbers,” Ray said. “Compared to just normal SEPs, we are running higher in call volume reflective of the open enrollment period for the same amount time.”

This, she says, is due in part to the pandemic.

“A lot of individuals who have mostly relied on employer coverage for access to health insurance are really having a tough time,” she said. “For example, gig workers and those in the performing arts are really needing help to navigate these programs they have never used. Since the number of individuals like this is growing at a pretty fast rate, this SEP will allow those who might have missed the last open enrollment period because they were unaware of the deadlines to apply and see if they can find an affordable plan, even if for the interim.”

She also noted that for those who already selected a plan during the last enrolment, changes can be made during this special enrollment period.

“This is a good chance to make sure that the plan they signed up for during the fall open enrollment period is still the best fit,” she said. “People might have a better idea of what their income and situations will be like for 2021. They may want to see if the plan they selected will meet their needs.”

Story by Anna Mayor, USF College of Public Health