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AG Nessel Leads Call Urging Federal Government to Increase Outreach About Health Care Coverage Assistance During COVID-19

LANSING – With the attorneys general of California and North Carolina, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel today led a multistate coalition in sending a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and its Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) urging them to immediately inform the millions of Americans who have lost – or may lose – their employer-sponsored health insurance coverage about the special enrollment period available to them through the official health care marketplace website.

In the letter, the attorneys general highlight the importance of providing families with the information and tools they need to navigate their health care options and access coverage during the unprecedented international health care crisis posed by coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

“Given our current public health crisis and its affect on the millions of Americans who are suddenly out of a job and the health insurance that came with it, it’s important that both state and federal government work to ensure those individuals are aware of the resources available to them,” Nessel. “My colleagues and I are asking the federal government to ensure its messaging to those who qualify for the special enrollment period is intentionally robust, especially in the states with federally facilitated health care exchanges – like Michigan.”

In the letter, the attorneys general highlight that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) provides the flexibility necessary to help people wrestling with the loss of their livelihoods and their families’ health care coverage during this critical time. The ACA requires the HHS Secretary to provide yearly open enrollment periods on the exchanges to permit individuals to enroll in new or different health care coverage.

Outside of the yearly open enrollment period, individuals may enroll in coverage through the health care marketplace only if they qualify for a special enrollment period due to certain life events such as loss of employment offering health care coverage.

In 2018, over half of individuals under age 65 had insurance through their employer, which is why informing individuals of the potential for replacing the coverage they have lost through the health care marketplace is vital.

The coalition expresses concern that, without immediate and widespread outreach, Americans who have recently been laid off will remain unaware of the special enrollment period and thus not access needed health care coverage. Evidence shows that marketplace advertising and consumer assistance increases enrollment numbers and stabilizes markets. Yet, over the last few years, the federal government has actively cut marketplace advertising and consumer assistance. HHS, as the operator of the health care marketplace, must step in to get the word out to consumers in the 38 states that rely on the federal exchange. HHS should also ensure that outreach materials are translated into the same range of languages as other HHS vital documents in order to ensure meaningful access to information about the special enrollment period.

In Michigan, enrollment help is available from the Department of Insurance and Financial Services (DIFS). The Michigan Health Insurance Consumer Assistance Program (HICAP) can provide shopping tips and help answer questions about health insurance or special enrollment periods. Contact DIFS at 877-999-6442 or send an email. The following resources are also available to get started:  

The importance of this outreach will only increase as the economic upheaval of this crisis continues to expand. A new study by the Health Management Associates estimates that the number of people receiving coverage from an employer could decline by up to 35 million due to layoffs caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. This same study estimates that the economic impact to the labor market could disproportionately impact the roughly 58 million non-elderly individuals who have employer-sponsored coverage and earn less than $50,000 per year. This heavily hit population could greatly benefit from navigating their options on the health care exchanges where they may qualify for subsidies to help pay for health care coverage.

The attorneys general urge HHS to empower individuals and working families across the country to pursue the best coverage option for them, whether it is exchange coverage, COBRA, Medicare, Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program. While the federal government’s promise to reimburse for the testing and treatment of COVID-19 for the uninsured is a step in the right direction, it will not help provide these Americans the comprehensive health care they need and could leave many families with large hospital and insurance bills in the long-run.

Attorney General Nessel serves as lead-cosigner on this letter with the attorneys general of California and North Carolina. Joining them in signing this letter are the attorneys general of Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington.

A copy of the letter is available here.