A special health insurance enrollment period begins this week and runs until May 15, in accordance with an executive order signed by President Biden. This gives nearly 9 million uninsured Americans the opportunity to purchase subsidized coverage through the federally facilitated marketplace established by the ACA. California operates its own health insurance marketplace—Covered California—and so is not covered by the executive order, but the state has chosen to open its own special enrollment period, giving uninsured Californians the same amount of time to sign up for coverage.
This is Covered California’s third special or extended enrollment period since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Nearly 290,000 Californians signed up for health coverage during a special enrollment period from March 20 through August 31, 2020. Covered California reported spending $9 million to promote this period. In addition, the state extended its annual open enrollment period for 2020 through January 31, 2021.
Unlike the open enrollment period at the end of each calendar year, special enrollment periods are limited to people who are uninsured—coverage changes or upgrades are not allowed. These periods provide important points of access for insurance coverage during crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic, when fears of falling ill intensify and people may not be willing to wait until they can secure employment-based coverage.
Covered California saw record enrollment in 2020, with nearly 1.6 million Californians renewing or signing up for coverage. This represents a 14% increase from enrollment counts at the same time last year. The pandemic and resulting job-loss is likely driving some of the growth. But state-level policy changes that took effect in 2020—including a state-level individual mandate, which requires most residents to have health insurance or pay a tax penalty, and additional state subsidies to help cover costs—may also have played a role.