After multiple extensions, open enrollment for health insurance is set to end on Monday, May 25. It’s not too late to get help with signups for health insurance, and people who have lost income in the last few months may find they qualify to pay lower or no premiums.
About a quarter of the state’s residents gets nearly free health care through MassHealth. Outer Cape Health Services has health care access specialists who can help people through the applications portal. The Community Action Committee of Cape Cod and the Islands (CACCI) likewise has staff who are specially trained as health care portal navigators, and who can help sign people up.
Immigrants who have overstayed their visas may not realize they can also get affordable health care. “It’s called Health Safety Net, and it’s not quite the same as health insurance, but it helps with a lot of major health events and other kinds of care at hospitals and community health centers,” said Kelly Hewitt, a health navigator at CACCI.
“Open enrollment” is an artifact of our complex health system. To prevent insurance companies from rejecting those with pre-existing conditions, Congress required them to accept anyone as a customer. The insurance companies worried that people would wait until they were sick to sign up — like waiting until your house is on fire and then buying fire insurance while it burns — so Congress created a window of time every year, usually December and January, when people are allowed to sign up for the next year of coverage. That’s “open enrollment.”
If something radically changes during that year, though, you may buy insurance outside that window of time. Losing a job, getting married, getting divorced, moving — even getting paid more, and thereby losing access to MassHealth — all count as “qualifying life events,” and allow you to buy insurance outside of the open enrollment period.
Because of the pandemic, open enrollment was extended several times, into April and then into May. The current extension ends on May 25. Many people have had a “qualifying life event” as a result of this pandemic, too, so even if you’re reading this after May 25, OCHS or CACCI may be able to help you sign up.
OCHS Healthcare Access Specialist, Provincetown, 774-538-3321; or Wellfleet, 508-905-2407. Kelly Hewitt, CACCI Healthcare Navigator: [email protected].