As health insurance open enrollment for the 2021 benefit year is set to begin on November 1, enrollment assisters from across the state gathered virtually this week at the annual enrollment conference. Hosted by Covering Wisconsin, the nearly 250 attendees heard the latest information they will use to help Wisconsinites sign up for coverage this fall.
WHA has long supported enrollment efforts, and particularly as people have lost jobs and may have lost access to insurance over the past several months due to COVID-19. WHA Senior Vice President of Public Policy Joanne Alig facilitated the opening session that included Nathan Houdek, deputy commissioner of Wisconsin’s Office of the Commissioner of Insurance (OCI) and Jim Jones, Wisconsin’s Medicaid director.
Beginning with positive news, Houdek indicated that the health insurance markets over the past few years have begun to stabilize. Insurers are expanding service areas and rates are projected to decrease again this year. More details will be available from OCI on these changes in mid-October.
Houdek also highlighted a letter
sent from Wisconsin Insurance Commissioner Mark Afable and Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) Secretary Andrea Palm to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services seeking an extension in the open enrollment period for 2021, given that the demand for coverage through the exchange marketplace is increasing due to economic impacts resulting from COVID. Without an extension, open enrollment will run from November 1 to December 15. Houdek noted that WHA along with several other organizations signed onto the letter.
The impacts of COVID will be felt by the Medicaid program into the next biennium, according to Jones. He noted that the Medicaid program has already seen higher enrollment; DHS expects that trend to continue based on their experience with past recessions.
However, Jones also indicated that some of the increased enrollment is due to federal requirements that prevent DHS from disenrolling people during the pandemic. DHS is working on plans to transition people to other coverage, such as the exchange marketplace, once the public health emergency ends.
Jones touted new regulatory flexibilities secured by DHS during the pandemic. Calling out telehealth in particular, Jones said they will keep those flexibilities as long as possible.