The private health insurance marketplaces set up by the Affordable Care Act had a busier-than-usual fall enrollment season, as people who lost their jobs — and their employer-sponsored health insurance — during the pandemic shopped for coverage. And with the marketplaces reopening for a special COVID-19 enrollment period, even more people are expected to sign up.
About 5,000 more people signed up for insurance through Pennsylvania’s marketplace, Pennie, during the 2021 enrollment period compared to the year before. A total of 337,700 people signed up for coverage, including 75,000 who had never bought a marketplace plan before — a 9.7% increase in new customers.
Though income-based subsidies are available to help pay for these marketplace plans, they still are too expensive for people on the lower end of the income scale. They’ve been enrolling in the Medicaid program at a brisk pace.
In early January, with a month left to sign up, New Jersey’s marketplace had already exceeded total enrollment for 2020. More than 251,800 people had bought plans through Get Covered NJ — including 50,000 new customers — as of Jan. 2.
“We are ahead of what we’d projected,” said Robin Stockton, a senior program director for the Center For Family Services, which helps New Jersey residents enroll in coverage. “What we are seeing is that there are really increased life situations happening that are making for extra transitions from employer-based coverage.”
Aside from people looking to replace insurance they lost, some newcomers had previously gone without insurance. But because of the pandemic, they wanted to get covered, said Jessy Foster, a community engagement coordinator for Pennsylvania Health Access Network, which helps people enroll in marketplace plans and Medicaid.
“Health has definitely come to the forefront for a lot of people,” she said.
Gabriel Setright, 28, of West Philadelphia, missed the open enrollment period for 2020 because he had recently moved to Philadelphia and was still adjusting to living independently. The plan offered by the local radio station where he works part-time was too expensive. But after being uninsured for more than a year — and acutely aware of it because of the pandemic — he was determined to sign up for 2021 and started an application the day the marketplace opened in November.
“Before the pandemic I just wanted to be insured because it made sense ... but then definitely this year it made even more sense to have some sort of basic coverage, just running through worst case scenarios,” said Setright, who enrolled in a bronze-level plan through Pennie. ACA plans are categorized bronze, silver, gold, or platinum depending on the level of coverage and costs. “It feels good to be covered.”
Extending the enrollment period as part of pandemic relief efforts is “crucial” for making sure people have access to health care during the pandemic, Marlene Caride, New Jersey’s commissioner of the Department of Banking and Insurance, said in a statement announcing the state’s marketplace would remain open until May 15.
Pennsylvania’s marketplace and the federal marketplace, healthcare.gov, will reopen Feb. 15 through May 15.
The enrollment period is intended to help people who have been affected by the pandemic, but anyone can sign up for coverage.