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The Scoop: health insurance news – February 17, 2021

A round-up of state and national headlines regarding individual health insurance and health reform

This week, a COVID-19 special enrollment period started in most states, offering millions of uninsured Americans an opportunity to enroll in ACA-compliant health coverage. | Image: cherryandbees /

COVID-related enrollment window now underway in most states

Although open enrollment ended two months ago in most of the country, a new one-time enrollment opportunity is available for 2021 coverage. Uninsured Americans nationwide have access to this enrollment window, and in most states, it can also be used by people who want to pick a different plan or switch from off-exchange to on-exchange coverage.

This enrollment window – a response to the ongoing COVID emergency – is now underway nationwide, with the exception of Idaho, which announced on Monday that a special enrollment period would begin March 1. In almost every state, the enrollment period continues through May 15, although there are six state-run exchanges that have – for now – different end dates:

If you’re not yet enrolled in health coverage for 2021, or if you’re enrolled in something like a short-term plan, Farm Bureau plan, or health care sharing ministry plan, this enrollment window – which does not require a qualifying event – is an opportunity to secure real health insurance coverage for the rest of the year.

And keep an eye on the COVID relief legislation that Congress is considering. It could end up providing enrollees with much larger and more widely available premium subsidies, making it particularly important that people get enrolled in on-exchange coverage before the end of this enrollment window.

CMS notifies states that Medicaid work requirements are being reconsidered

Last week, the Biden administration began notifying states with approved Medicaid work requirements that CMS is considering withdrawing the approval for these programs. The letters were sent to Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Ohio, South Carolina, Utah, and Wisconsin, and clarify that CMS “has preliminarily determined that allowing work and other community engagement requirements to take effect … would not promote the objectives of the Medicaid program.”

There are currently no Medicaid work requirements in effect. Some have been overturned by the courts, some have been postponed voluntarily by the states, and others have been suspended or postponed due to the COVID pandemic and the ban on coverage terminations that states are required to adhere to in order to receive enhanced federal Medicaid funding during the pandemic. The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments next month in Arkansas v. Gresham, to determine whether the Trump administration’s approval of a Medicaid work requirement in Arkansas was lawful.

CMS also sent a letter last week to states that currently operate 1115 waivers, rescinding a previous letter that former CMS Administrator Seema Verma sent to states in early January. Verma’s letter had stated that if CMS were to terminate or withdraw approval for part or all of a state’s 1115 waiver, there would be a nine-month delay before the changes took effect.

South Dakota legislature passes bill to allow the sale of Farm Bureau non-insurance plans

Last week, we told you about a bill in South Dakota that would allow the state to join TennesseeKansasIowa, and Indiana in allowing Farm Bureau (or other agricultural organizations domiciled in the state for at least 25 years) to sell medically underwritten health plans that would specifically not be considered health insurance and thus would be exempt from insurance laws and regulations, including state laws as well as the Affordable Care Act’s rules.

The bill had already passed the Senate at that point, and has since passed in the South Dakota House as well. It’s now under consideration by GOP Gov. Kristi Noem, who consistently voted against the Affordable Care Act during her time in Congress.

There are other states (Michigan is an example) where Farm Bureau partners with health insurers to offer ACA-compliant health insurance, and the Nebraska Farm Bureau partners with Medica to offer guaranteed-issue short-term health insurance during a limited annual enrollment period. But these approaches are not the same as allowing an agricultural organization to offer products that are specifically not considered health insurance.

Kansas Senate legislation would allow short-term health plans in Kansas to follow federal rules

Kansas is one of the states where the rules for short-term health plans are more restrictive than the current federal rules. But S.B. 199, introduced last week in the Kansas Senate, would change that. Kansas currently limits short-term health plans to a single renewal, which means their total duration cannot exceed 24 months. S.B. 199 would allow short-term health plans in Kansas to have total durations of up to 36 months – in line with current federal rules. The Biden administration may roll back the Trump-era rules for short-term plans, however, which would eventually make more relaxed state rules moot.

Aetna plans to rejoin exchanges for 2022

CVS Health/Aetna plans to offer health coverage in at least some health insurance exchanges during the open enrollment period that starts this November, although the insurer has not yet provided details in terms of where it will participate. Aetna had previously offered coverage in some exchanges, but had exited all of them by the end of 2017, and has not participated since. CVS/Aetna opting back into the exchanges would continue the trend that has been ongoing in 2019, 2020, and 2021, with insurers joining or rejoining the exchanges, after numerous insurers – including Aetna – left the exchanges in 2017 and 2018.

Aetna’s previous exit from the health insurance exchanges happened before the company was acquired by CVS. But the exit was controversial, and linked to the Department of Justice’s decision to block a merger between Humana and Aetna. Here’s what David Anderson wrote about this in 2016, and Charles Gaba has put together a timeline of Aetna’s 2016 decision-making process.

Washington state Senate committee approves legislation to ensure coverage of gender-affirming healthcare

Washington state lawmakers are considering S.B. 5313, which would require state-regulated health plans to provide non-discriminatory coverage for medically necessary gender-affirming care. Insurers would not, for example, be able to deny coverage for services needed by transgender members, such as facial feminization, breast reductions, breast implants, etc. by classifying them as cosmetic procedures.

The bill was overwhelmingly approved last week by the Washington Senate’s Committee on Health and Long Term Care.

Rhode Island legislation would create commission to consider single-payer health program

Legislation was introduced in Rhode Island last week that calls for the creation of a special legislative committee tasked with “a comprehensive study to determine the pros and cons of implementing a single-payer (health coverage) program in Rhode Island.” The legislation notes that an “improved Medicare-for-all type single-payer program” would be in the state’s best interest. There are not currently any states that have single-payer health coverage systems, although there are others that are considering similar studies.

Medicaid buy-in legislation introduced in West Virginia

Legislation has been introduced in several states this year that would create Medicaid buy-in programs. With the introduction of H.B. 2241, West Virginia is the latest state where lawmakers are considering this possibility. The idea is to create a public option program by allowing residents – who would not otherwise be eligible for Medicaid – to purchase Medicaid coverage as an alternative to purchasing private health insurance. There are not yet any states where Medicaid buy-in programs have been enacted; Nevada has come the closest, but the Medicaid buy-in legislation that lawmakers passed in 2017 was vetoed by Nevada’s governor.

Louise Norris is an individual health insurance broker who has been writing about health insurance and health reform since 2006. She has written dozens of opinions and educational pieces about the Affordable Care Act for Her state health exchange updates are regularly cited by media who cover health reform and by other health insurance experts.

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