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A New Enrollment Window Is Open, and Outreach Teams are Back to Work

The COVID-19 public health emergency has triggered a new opportunity for people to enroll in marketplace health care coverage this year if they missed the chance during open enrollment last fall.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Oklahoma outreach teams are making people aware of their options. Ricky Trussell, a community outreach specialist for BCBSOK, says he and his colleagues with the Mobile Assistance Center (MAC) are re-energized and resuming where they left off in December.

“The main thing is to explain the importance of health insurance,” Trussell says. The MAC team is working days, nights and weekends until the deadline to help the uninsured in Oklahoma, many of whom qualify for financial help under the Affordable Care Act.

In a typical year, people can sign up for coverage outside of the open enrollment period only after certain changes in their lives — such as losing coverage at work or having a child. These qualifying events trigger a special enrollment period.

This year, President Joe Biden called for a special enrollment period, or SEP, to help make sure people have access to coverage during the difficult health and economic circumstances caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The special enrollment period will run through Aug. 15 to give people more time to take advantage of expanded subsidies included in the recent $1.9 trillion federal stimulus package.

Anyone who qualifies for marketplace coverage may enroll without a qualifying event. This SEP gives the Mobile Assistance Center team a chance to reconnect with consumers who didn’t sign up before the window closed in December. It also may help families re-evaluate their coverage and find better options.

The MAC team is holding several in-person events a week across the state to reach as many Oklahomans as possible, especially those living in rural and tribal communities. Latino-focused events also are being scheduled to help uninsured residents enroll in coverage.

Additionally, consumers can connect with the MAC team through virtual one-on-one appointments or by phone, email, mail and FaceTime in both English and Spanish.

“We’re trying to follow technology and find good ways to connect with consumers,” says BCBSOK Communications Consultant Melissa Summar.

A chance to reconnect

Nationally, an estimated 15 million uninsured people are eligible to buy coverage through the marketplace. About nine million of them qualify for reduced-cost or even $0 monthly premiums, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis.

In Oklahoma, subsidies helped 95% of new BCBSOK members lower their monthly bill in 2020.

Before the pandemic, Oklahoma already had the second-highest rate of uninsured residents nationwide, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. An estimated 572,000 Oklahomans – about 14.3% of the state population – lack health insurance.

About 38% of uninsured Oklahomans already had access to a bronze-level plan with $0 premiums after subsidies, according to Kaiser.

With the expanded subsidies under the American Rescue Plan Act, more than 57,000 additional Oklahomans are eligible for $0 premiums.

Many parents have coverage for their children but not for themselves, Trussell says, and he encourages them to consider options for covering the whole family. “You want to make sure you’re taken care of,” he says. “You have to take care of yourself before you can take care of those around you.”

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