Enrollment is Open at Healthcare.gov, Now Through May 2021

President Biden has signed an executive order to open a Special Enrollment Period in the health insurance marketplace. The date began February 15 and will stay open through May 15. This helps those who lost employment-based insurance during the COVID-19 pandemic find insurance in their state’s health insurance marketplace.


The health insurance marketplace is a key offering of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). It normally restricts enrollment between November 1 and December 15. With the new executive order, a new 90-day special enrollment period is open between February 15 and May 15. This also provides an opportunity for those on COBRA health insurance plan find something affordable, since COBRA is so expensive. The ACA has always allowed a 60-day safety net of open enrollment after someone loses a job or has a change in income to sign up for coverage. Unfortunately, many do not take advantage of this option.


An assessment by The Commonwealth Fund identified more than 14.6 million individuals covered by employer-sponsored insurance who were affected by the as of June 2020—this includes 6.9 million dependents and 7.7 million employees who lost health coverage. However, many workers were only temporarily laid off (furloughed). This kept them attached to their employer and continued to have insurance through their employer. The job market has of course been fluid and these numbers have fluctuated.

Such uncertainty, especially in the times of a pandemic that is causing a variety of health issues, is a problem.

Take Advantage of the Special Enrollment Period

Here are steps to follow to enroll in a marketplace plan during the pandemic-related open enrollment period:

Here is a quick guide to the Health Insurance Marketplace.


For this special enrollment period to be successful, a massive consumer-oriented messaging campaign will be vital. Unless the uninsured know the marketplace option is available, they will not enroll. So pass this information forward to anyone you know who has lost work or insurance.


Another issue could be a shortage of navigators who assist people through the enrollment process, following cuts to outreach efforts by the previous administration. These cuts, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) survey, led to 51% of Americans having trouble enrolling during the 2020 open enrollment period. The pandemic complicated things further—individuals who were using the marketplace for the first time to find insurance had to depend on remote enrollment assistance.

When KFF asked navigators to provide feedback on improving the enrollment process, they recommended the following:

  • Invest in publicizing that the open enrollment is being reopened
  • Develop a plan for targeted outreach, especially among those who do not speak English, non-citizens, and those who have been uninsured for a long time
  • Stress that this a new open enrollment period, not a COVID-19 special enrollment period
  • Provide additional resources to federal navigators during this enrollment period
  • Restore federal funding for consumer assistance beyond the special enrollment period

The government has developed wide-scale advertising and messaging plans. Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait until the special enrollment period is over to know if it reached enough people.

Surabhi Dangi-Garimella, Ph.D.

Surabhi Dangi-Garimella, Ph.D. is a biologist with academic research experience, who brought her skills and knowledge to the health care communications world. She provides writing and strategic support to non-profit groups via her consultancy, SDG AdvoHealth, LLC.


When insurance opportunities like Open Enrollment appear, we’ll let you know about them. Taking advantage of the Open Enrollment period is especially important during this time. We told you How To Find New Health Insurance After Getting Laid Off, and let you know Who Pays the Covid Bills When You’re Uninsured.

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