March 13, 2020
Press Release

Washington, D.C. – Today, as the COVID-19 pandemic spreads across the United States, Rep. Lieu joined over 100 lawmakers urging Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to employ existing authority to establish a Special Enrollment Period for patients to seek ACA Marketplace coverage during the COVID-19 pandemic.

There are 38 states covered by the federal exchange and HHS has the authority to reopen enrollment to ensure Americans have access to healthcare in light of this deadly pandemic. States who operate their own exchanges are empowered to expand their enrollment periods, but an HHS established enrollment period would apply nationwide. This week, Washington and Massachusetts opened enrollment for their state exchanges. HHS has previously opened federal enrollment periods following other disasters such as Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Dorian.

“As we continue to receive rapidly evolving information about the coronavirus (COVID19), it’s critical for uninsured Americans to have access to health insurance coverage they may need,” said Congressman Ted Lieu (D-CA). “A Special Enrollment Period for individuals seeking ACA Marketplace coverage would be particularly helpful during this public health pandemic.”

“The Affordable Care Act is an invaluable tool in combatting the coronavirus pandemic,” said Congressman Doggett (D-TX). “Let’s give more Americans an opportunity to access affordable health care, especially those who missed last year’s Trump-narrowed and little federally-publicized enrollment period. Those without insurance risk the health of all our communities. We get through this by getting through this together. Confronting this threat together means that this Administration should exercise existing authority to offer an opportunity for every eligible American to enroll right now. And for those who have discovered that the junk, short-term insurance plan they purchased is really junk, this represents an opportunity to secure genuine health insurance. With its multiple, ongoing coronavirus failures, the Trump Administration should offer uninsured Americans an opportunity for the protection that coverage provides.”

“As Congress works to ensure that our communities are able to adequately test for COVID-19 at no cost to patients, it is critical that the Department of Health and Human Services join us in making services widely accessible,” said Congressman Chris Pappas (D-NH). “By taking the crucial step of opening the federal exchanges at this time, Granite Staters would have the ability to protect not only themselves and their families but our communities as a whole. I urge the Administration to honor this request immediately.”

Read the full letter below:

Dear Secretary Azar:

We write to urge you to establish a Special Enrollment Period to be applicable to all Affordable Care Act Marketplace coverage, including those using as well as state-based marketplaces, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many among the close to 30 million Americans living without insurance[1] and estimated 44 million who are underinsured[2] would benefit from such a declaration. As outbreaks emerge and community spread continues in the United States, our most vulnerable neighbors are those who lack comprehensive health coverage. Without that coverage, they are unlikely to seek treatment for COVID-19, leaving all in our community at risk.

You declared COVID-19 a public health emergency on January 31st. Responding to that emergency must include ensuring access to insurance coverage so patients can seek treatment for COVID-19. There is precedent for HHS declaring a Special Enrollment Period during an emergency. In 2017, HHS established a Special Enrollment Period for patients living in areas FEMA deemed eligible for assistance following Hurricanes Irma, Maria, Nate, and Harvey. Similarly, a Special Enrollment Period was established in 2019 for areas affected by Hurricane Dorian.

Providing an opportunity for more Americans to seek health coverage is an important step in assuring public health during this crisis. Without effective action, we are concerned that Americans will not be adequately protected against current and future coronavirus outbreaks. We look forward to your response.