Nevada ready to resume health insurance enrollment to broaden coverage

Diana J. Smith
Health Insurance Deadline Approaching

Steve Marcus

Heather Korbulic, executive director of Silver State Health Insurance Exchange, speaks during a news conference on health insurance at the Sawyer State Building Friday, Dec. 14, 2018.

Nearly 82,000 Nevadans signed up for health insurance in 2020 through the Silver State Health Insurance Exchange open enrollment period.

The 81,903 newly covered people aren’t a record, but they do represent an increase of nearly 6% over 2019. Exchange Executive Director Heather Korbulic said people who purchase Affordable Care Act-compliant coverage through the online marketplace, Nevada Health Link, don’t have to give a reason for turning to the exchange, but it stands to reason that the COVID-19 pandemic had something to do with it.

“I think it’s fair to guess that at least a portion of our new enrollment have lost their employer-sponsored plans because they’ve lost their jobs,” Korbulic said.

The pandemic may also drive added enrollment as displaced workers who used COBRA insurance plans after being laid off may be seeing the temporary plans expire, and, when the public health emergency is declared over, Medicaid agencies will be able to reassess who is eligible. Those who earn enough to drop off Medicaid may still qualify for a subsidized plan through the exchange; about four out of five exchange customers typically do.

Open enrollment was Nov. 1, 2020-Jan. 15, but with continued personal economic and life changes likely as the pandemic drags, and President Joe Biden’s expected reopening of open enrollment via executive order, Korbulic said the state was ready to get even more people covered.

“We anticipate the next nine to 10 months being very dynamic with our enrollment,” she said. “We are ready for Nevadans to come and take advantage of special enrollment periods at a pace that we’ve probably never seen before.”

Korbulic and her colleagues in health care policy went into the open enrollment period unsure about the fate of the ACA with a looming Supreme Court case that could have struck down Obamacare. The court, however, seems likely to leave in place the bulk of the Affordable Care Act, including key protections for preexisting conditions and subsidized insurance premiums that affect tens of millions of Americans.

Simply, the ACA is needed.

“The fact that the Affordable Care Act survived the last four years despite papercut after papercut with rulemaking and challenges to the viability over and over again, it was resilient because of the need,” Korbulic said. “Americans and Nevadans need access to affordable, comprehensive health insurance that will not discriminate based on preexisting conditions and allows for portability — you can leave your job and still have comprehensive benefits.”

The Silver State Health Insurance Exchange featured five carriers offering 50 plans, nearly double the number of plans over the year prior. Two of those carriers were new to Nevada.

Sal Gentile, CEO of one of the new players, Friday Health Plans, said his Denver-based company has signed up just shy of 10,000 Nevadans so far, almost all of them via the exchange. That’s the high end of his expected range, he said.

Gentile said Friday Health Plans still needs to survey its customers to learn if pandemic-driven job loss or entry into the gig economy brought people to Friday Health’s exchange plans, but “right now I can only suspect that is true given all that is going on and how our brand generally resonates.”

Proportionally, Nevada did just as well for Friday Health Plans as the much-larger Texas, with signups roughly mirroring Nevada’s population distribution, he said.

Korbulic said she is looking forward to working with the Biden administration and newest Congress.

“There’s a lot to be encouraged about with a president who is supportive of not only the existing policies, but fixing the policy and then building on it,” she said. “I think with the Senate transitioning to being a Democrat majority, there will be a whole lot more conversation, and probably robust conversation, about how our health care systems work and how we can improve them.”

Demographics of exchange users should be determined by the spring, she said.

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