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Each year at this time, Americans can make changes to their health insurance plan or buy a plan if they don’t have insurance.
This year, in the midst of a pandemic and record high unemployment, the open enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act, may be more important than ever.
Although most Americans get their health insurance through their employer, many — including those who are self employed or work for an employer that does not provide insurance — buy their insurance through the marketplaces set up through the Affordable Care Act.
New enrollments in ACA marketplaces are accepted during the open enrollment period, which runs from Nov. 1 to Dec. 15 this year. In some instances, people who have lost their health insurance through a loss of a job or reduced hours because of the COVID pandemic can get insurance during special enrollment periods. People have 60 days after losing their job-based insurance coverage to demonstrate that they lost coverage and try to find a new plan through the ACA marketplace.
But open enrollment is the easiest time to enroll in a plan or to make changes for 2021 and the remainder of this year. Go to healthcare.gov to browse plans and subsidies and to sign up for a plan.
A study last year found that 59 percent of HealthCare.gov enrollees in Maine can find a plan for $10 or less per month, while 74 percent can find a plan for $75 or less.
The Trump administration has cut back on advertising and assistance to help make Americans aware of the ACA and the low-cost health insurance options that are available through its marketplaces. According to polling by the Kaiser Family Foundation, awareness of the ACA and the subsidies it offers have fallen over time. For example, 59 percent of the public knows the ACA offers subsidies for marketplace health plans, compared to 75 percent who knew this 10 years ago.
Worse, less than half knew that open enrollment was the time to sign up for a plan if you need health insurance.
There is also a lot of uncertainty about the future of the ACA. This is likely in large part due to years of Republican attempts to repeal or replace the Obama administration health care law. More recently, the Trump administration and more than a dozen state attorneys general have sought to have the act invalidated by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The court heard arguments in a case seeking to void the law last week.
Opponents of the law argued that because a penalty for not having insurance — what is called the individual mandate — was removed by federal lawmakers as part of a 2017 tax bill, the entire law should be thrown out.
As predicted by legal experts, a majority of Supreme Court justices appeared to reject this view, indicating that the individual mandate and its penalty are severable from the remainder of the law.
“It does seem fairly clear that the proper remedy would be to sever the mandate provision and leave the rest of the act in place — the provisions regarding pre-existing conditions and the rest,” Justice Brett Kavanaugh said during the Nov. 10 hearing.
The ACA’s fate is not fully secure until the court issues a ruling, which is expected in June. But the fact that five judges appeared to support the law’s legitimacy bodes well for its future.
The ongoing coronavirus pandemic, and the economic uncertainty it has spawned, are a potent reminder of the importance of health insurance. If you need insurance, go to healthcare.gov to see if you qualify for a subsidized plan under the Affordable Care Act.