What's New in 2021

There are new policies for the marketplace in 2021, and the COVID-19 pandemic has also caused considerable disruption for many current and potential marketplace enrollees. Below is a summary some recent changes with links to updated or new Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs).

  • COVID-19 Pandemic: The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and resulting social distancing policies have led to economic and social disruption, causing many to face the loss of employment, income, and/or their source of health insurance. There are a number of policy changes related to the pandemic that can impact enrollment and affordability on the marketplace.
    • The federal marketplace has established a special enrollment period due to the COVID-19 pandemic, scheduled to run from February 15-May 15, 2021. Many states that run their own marketplace have established their own special enrollment periods, and some have different deadlines than the federal marketplace, so check with HealthCare.gov or with your state marketplace to see if you qualify. For answers to questions about this SEP, guidance from HealthCare.gov is available here.
    • Some insurers have offered premium discounts or rebates to policyholders in 2020, because of the reduced amount of claims during the pandemic. However, under new federal guidance these discounts or rebates should not change consumers’ eligibility for premium tax credits, nor affect the tax reconciliation process.
    • In August of 2020, FEMA funds became available to supplement unemployment insurance payments. Consumers in almost every state filing for unemployment insurance due to the COVID-19 pandemic were eligible to receive an increase of $300 per week to unemployment benefits (possibly up to an additional $400 in some states) for a limited time period. While the federal government hasn’t provided clear guidance on how this will be counted for purposes of determining marketplace subsidy eligibility, FEMA guidance indicates the additional $300 is not included in assessments for Medicaid and CHIP eligibility (treatment of the additional $100, if available, has yet to be determined for either subsidy or Medicaid eligibility determinations).
    • For additional information, type COVID-19 in search box on the home page for new FAQs about enrollment issues related to the pandemic.
  • Public Charge Rule: A previous policy instituted by the Trump administration expanded the definition of a “public charge" for immigrants applying for admission to the U.S. or permanent residency (green card). That rule is no longer in effect. The current public charge rules are based on what is known as the 1999 field guidance, and enrollment in health coverage programs such as Medicaid (except for institutional long-term care) will not impact public charge determinations. CHIP and marketplace coverage, including receipt of marketplace premium and cost-sharing subsidies, were not considered negative factors in public charge determinations under the Trump administration’s prior rule and will continue to have no effect on permanent residency applications under current policies. To learn more, see this FAQ.
  • ACA Litigation at SCOTUS: The constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will again be considered by the United States Supreme Court. A decision on this case is not expected until Spring 2021 and until that happens the ACA’s insurance reforms, the marketplaces, and federal financial assistance remain in place. For more information see this FAQ.
  • New Special Enrollment Period (SEP) for Individuals Newly Eligible for Advanced Premium Tax Credits (APTCs): In prior years, individuals who were covered under an employer-sponsored plan or a plan purchased through the marketplace could access a SEP if they became newly eligible for APTCs. However, individuals who purchased an individual market plan outside of the marketplace (“off-marketplace”) could not. In 2020, HHS expanded this opportunity to allow individuals who are enrolled in an off-marketplace plan and who experience a decrease in income that makes them newly eligible for APTCs to use a SEP to enroll in an on-marketplace plan. However, this may not be immediately available in all states, and consumers may have to contact the marketplace call center to access the opportunity. See this FAQ for more information.
  • Retroactive Effective Dates: CMS has streamlined its rules and processes for retroactive coverage for consumers who receive a special enrollment period, a favorable appeal decision, or a processing delay. Consumers have the option to pay the premiums for all the months of retroactive coverage, or only pay the premium for one month of coverage and receive prospective coverage only.
  • SEP for Someone with an Enrolled Dependent: CMS has adopted new policies to make it easier for an individual who qualifies for a SEP to enroll into a dependent’s marketplace plan. The marketplace will allow the individual to be added to his or her dependent’s current health plan. If the current health plan does not allow for this, the individual and their dependent(s) can switch to a different health plan within the same level of coverage, or he or she can enroll in a separate health plan. If there is no available health plan that allows for dependent coverage in the same level of coverage, the individual(s) and their dependent may switch to a plan that is one level higher or lower.
  • Two Payment Rule for Abortion Services: A federal judge has enjoined a Trump Administration regulation that requires insurers to send two separate monthly bills, one for abortion coverage and one for coverage of all other services. Pending the outcome of this litigation, consumers are still able to pay their monthly premium a single transaction.
  • Contraception Mandate: In July of 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that federal rules expanding exemptions to the ACA’s contraceptive coverage requirement could go into effect. These rules, previously subject to a nationwide injunction, allow eligible organizations including employers, insurers, and universities to exclude contraceptive coverage on the basis of “sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions.” While previously, the federal government required these entities to provide an accommodation so that plan enrollees could still access contraceptive coverage, that accommodation process is now optional. Some plan enrollees may now have to pay entirely out-of-pocket for contraception. The rules are subject to further legal proceedings. Enrollees should check with their plan administrator to see if their benefits are impacted – see our FAQs for employees and students.
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