As State Extends Health Care Signup Period Again, Frosh Presses for New Federal Enrollments

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Despite an historic pandemic, the Trump administration has refused to allow people who don’t have health insurance the opportunity to purchase coverage through the federal exchange, HealthCare.Gov.

This week more than a dozen state attorneys general — including Maryland’s Brian E. Frosh (D) — joined a legal fight to force the government to create a special enrollment window.

Their push comes as the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 cases nationwide reaches 2.4 million, a number that almost certainly undercounts the true total.

A new surge of infections in the South and West has overwhelmed local hospitals, threatens state and local reopenings, and is poised to lead to a ban on travel to Europe by Americans.

Democrats in Congress maintain that White House officials — and their GOP allies in Congress — have refused to allow new Obamacare sign-ups because of a desire not to do anything that could be seen as validating the Affordable Care Act, which the Republicans have spent a decade trying to gut.

In signing on to the legal challenge, Frosh declared that the administration’s stubbornness isn’t just wrong — it’s illegal. He and 13 other state AG’s joined in an amicus brief in support of the City of Chicago’s lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The attorneys general argue in the filing there is both “a critical need” and “a legal obligation” to open a special enrollment window to aid those who wish to buy coverage through the federal system, which offers both lower premiums than the individual market and access to federal subsidies.

“In the midst of an unprecedented health crisis, it is the duty of government to protect its citizens and ensure they have access to the resources to protect their health and the health of their family members,” Frosh said in a statement.

Twelve states, including Maryland, and the District of Columbia have their own exchanges; the residents of 38 other states rely on HealthCare.Gov, controlled by HHS.

The Maryland Health Benefits Exchange, in an arrangement with the state and the insurance carriers that write policies here, opened a special enrollment window early in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Due to the strong public reaction, the deadline has been extended twice. Consumers now have through July 15 to purchase a policy.

As of Tuesday, nearly 44,500 people have purchased coverage through the state’s portal, MarylandHealthConnection.gov.

Health care advocates see the robust response as a win-win. Not only will tens of thousands of Marylanders now have coverage, but the system as a whole benefits from a presumed reduction in uncompensated care.

U.S. Rep. David J. Trone (D-Md.) praised Frosh for joining the campaign to force a federal enrollment window.

”Right now we need to do everything we can to help people keep the health insurance they have and get health insurance if they need it,” Trone said in a statement to Maryland Matters.

“Maryland is proof that special enrollment periods get people the health insurance they need during this global pandemic. The House of Representatives has already taken action by including legislation in the HEROES Act to open a special enrollment period, and I fully support Attorney General Frosh’s efforts to push the Trump Administration to do the same.”

Rep. Andrew P. Harris (R-Md.), a physician and the only GOP member of the state’s congressional delegation, declined to be interviewed.

“The Congressman does not want to comment at this time,” said a spokesman via email.

Under current regulations, only those Americans who already had health insurance with their job are eligible for a special enrollment period, according to Frosh. Those who did not have health care coverage through their employer, but experienced job loss, are left with no options.

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(Disclosure: The David and June Trone Family Foundation is a financial supporter of Maryland Matters.)

Bruce DePuyt
Bruce DePuyt spent nearly three decades on local television, including 14 years as executive producer and host of News Talk on NewsChannel 8 in the Washington, D.C., area. He has served as reporter, anchor and producer/host of 21 This Week in Montgomery County and as reporter/anchor at NBC affiliate WVIR-TV in Charlottesville, VA. He's a regular contributor to WTOP (103.5 FM) and frequently moderates community and political events.