Floridians who may not be able to afford health insurance can now access free coverage under a special enrollment period for Affordable Care Act plans.
The expanded enrollment comes as the federal health emergency that helped millions gain Medicaid coverage during the pandemic could end in the coming months.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services launched the Special Enrollment Period in March to help Americans up to 150% of the federal poverty level get free health insurance coverage. For an individual, the threshold is $19,320 and for a family of four, it is $39,750.
Officials say the temporary expansion could help those who accessed Medicaid during the public health emergency, which began early in the pandemic and continues today.
The public health emergency provided additional Medicaid funding to states during the pandemic and prevented them from opting people out of their Medicaid programs.
In Florida, enrollment in Medicaid programs for adults and children increased by 23%, or 826,760 people, between February 2020 and September 2021, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
But as the federal government plans to end the public health emergency in the coming months, thousands of Florida residents are at risk of losing their Medicaid coverage.
The Biden administration previously extended the public health emergency until April 16 and said it would give states at least 60 days notice before ending it.
For individuals and families who received extra support during the pandemic, losing their coverage now could be difficult, said Jodi Ray, director of Florida Covering Kids and Families.
“People who might have their health coverage taken away or lose it might feel like the bottom is falling,” Ray said. “And the key here is that it’s not, because there’s this other option that can help so many of these people.”
Ray’s group has been helping Floridians get health insurance through the Affordable Care Act since the first open enrollment period in 2013.
The group and its partners across Florida will be available to help those who need to purchase health insurance during this special enrollment time, she said.
“Covering Florida’s navigators can help them navigate this process so they can maintain their access to the health services they need,” Ray said.
One of the goals of the expansion is for people to have continued access to health care after the public health emergency ends, she said.
“It gives them an additional option to get coverage they can afford.” says Ray.
The special registration period began in mid-March and will continue until December.
To enroll, visit healthcare.gov or contact Covering Florida at 877-813-9115 or www.coveringflorida.org.