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Special enrollment period announced for in-progress Affordable Care Act applicants

Laurel Andrews

For Alaskans who have started health insurance applications under the Affordable Care Act but have run into problems, a special enrollment period has been set up through mid-April, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced Wednesday.

The special enrollment period is only for people who are “in line,” meaning they have started the enrollment process but were unable to complete it due to a variety of circumstances, said Susan Johnson, regional director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. That means Alaskans will need to have an application in process before the March 31 deadline to qualify.

The special enrollment period will apply to a variety of circumstances, including:

• Exceptional circumstances, such as a serious medical condition or natural disaster.
• An enrollment error in which folks enrolled through but the insurance company didn’t receive the information due to a technical issue. 
• Display error on the website, including display of incorrect plan data regarding premiums and benefits, and a variety of other system errors or error messages.
• Alaskans who were found ineligible for Medicaid and whose applications weren’t transferred from the state Medicaid agency to the marketplace.
• Domestic abuse victims can apply for a plan through May 31.

A full list of exceptions can be found in a release sent out by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

For people enrolling past the deadline online, a pop-up box will ask folks to attest that they had tried to enroll and, by “no fault of their own,” were unable to, Johnson said. They will be asked to check one of the boxes attesting that they fall under one of the applicable circumstances.

“It’s an honor system,” Johnson said, “but I wouldn’t be surprised if there wasn’t some review” of the applicants who enroll past the March 31 deadline.

She stressed that the special application period is not a pushing back of the deadline but a defined extension period only for those who have tried to enroll but were in some way prevented. The Washington Post concluded Tuesday that the extension essentially creates a loophole in what had been treated a firm deadline.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services anticipates high consumer traffic in the days leading up to the March 31 deadline, which may lead to enrollment problems for some, according to a second release sent out Wednesday.

United Way navigators, who help people walk through the process, will continue assisting people through mid-April, said Sandy McClintock, director of communications and marketing for United Way.

Paper applications that fall under the special enrollment period will be accepted through April 7.  Electronic enrollments will be accepted until sometime in mid-April. A firm cutoff date for the extension does not appear to have been publicized.

The deadline to enroll for individual health insurance under the Affordable Care Act is March 31, 8 p.m. Alaska time.