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Special enrollment period for Affordable Care Act coverage open now through May 15

Published: Feb. 16, 2021 at 10:28 PM CST
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - National studies estimate millions of Americans have lost their health insurance because of job loss during the pandemic.

People now have an opportunity to sign up for Affordable Care Act coverage through a special enrollment period that started Monday and is open through May 15.

But a clinic that serves uninsured and underinsured people said it hasn’t seen job losses in Linn County reflected in more people turning to coverage options in the Health Insurance Marketplace.

“It bothers me greatly,” Dawn Brouwers, the executive director at His Hands Free Clinic in Cedar Rapids, said. “I just know how important it is to have your health, and we really want to get the word out that if you don’t have insurance, there are options.”

Staff at His Hands believe a lack of awareness is preventing people from signing up for coverage through the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.

Through a grant from the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation, the clinic is working with a marketing class at Mount Mercy University to create posters and newspaper ads to let people know they can sign up during the special enrollment period, a step they also took during last fall’s annual open enrollment period.

President Joe Biden signed an executive order at the end of January to open the special enrollment period for a three-month window.

“I know that one of the reasons for the delay between signing the executive order and opening the marketplace — that being like a three-week difference in time — was so that they could ramp up and start a marketing campaign, which they plan to continue throughout,” Amy DeLay, a patient advocate at His Hands, said.

DeLay said this type of awareness campaign is needed because a lot of people who are eligible don’t know it.

Anyone who lives in the United States and is an American citizen or has an eligible immigration status can enroll in healthcare through the Marketplace.

But people who aren’t offered employer insurance and make less than 400% of the federal poverty level — about $51,000 for an individual in 2021 and about $104,800 for a family of four — qualify for tax credits, which cover their premium costs, so they pay less money.

For this special enrollment period, DeLay said this is based on estimated incomes for this year, so people won’t need their tax documents from last year when they sign up.

“I know a lot of people have had income changes over the past year, due to COVID, the derecho, and other impacts,” she said. “So they would need to have their income of what they project to make for 2021.”

DeLay also recommended people with immigration status have that information handy when they enroll as well.

His Hands staff said a common question they receive during sign-ups is about pre-existing conditions, which DeLay said are not excluded from coverage.

“Any plan offered on the marketplace would provide comprehensive health coverage, including medications. It would not exclude any pre-existing conditions, and it does cover at 100% preventative health, like colonoscopies, mammograms, flu shots, and annual physicals,” she said.

Organizations like His Hands Free Clinic offer to help people enroll and understand what they qualify for.

Healthcare.gov offers a “Find Local Help” tool, along with a 24-7 hotline at 1-800-318-2596 for people to get connected with someone who can assist them with enrollment.

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