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Obamacare marketplace won't extend open enrollment period amid coronavirus

The Trump administration has opted against reopening the marketplaces on healthcare.gov for a special enrollment period to accommodate those who have lost employer-sponsored healthcare amid the coronavirus pandemic, a senior administration official confirmed to CBS News. Millions of Americans who filed for unemployment benefits last week can still apply for insurance under the Affordable Care Act, but freelancers or part-time employees who have had sources of income disappear will not be eligible to file under a qualifying life event.
 
The Department of Labor said Thursday that 6.6 million Americans filed for unemployment last week, double the number of applications reported the week before and 10 times the previous weekly record set in 1982.  
 
The administration had floated the possibility of reopening the marketplaces for several weeks, but a senior administration official confirmed that is no longer the case. The news of the administration's decision was first reported by Politico. 
 
The senior administration official told CBS News that President Trump is "committed" to seeing that Americans have a "broad variety" of health insurance coverage options during this time of "economic disruption." But both Mr. Trump and Vice President Pence declined to directly answer questions at Wednesday's Coronavirus Task Force briefing on how Americans who are uninsured and don't meet income standards to qualify for Medicaid could become insured amid the pandemic. 
 
One day later, Mr. Trump said "we are doing better than that" when asked at that day's Coronavirus Task Force briefing about his decision to not expand the Obamacare special enrollment period during the pandemic. He said opening up the enrollment period "doesn't help as much" as getting those Americans the cash payment in the stimulus package. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the first direct deposit payments to Americans will happen in just two weeks. 
   
 
"Americans should know that if they are temporarily unemployed, there are coverage options available to them, including COBRA and the individual Exchange, where individuals experiencing a qualifying event such as a job loss can enroll for coverage," the senior administration official added.
 
COBRA, also known as the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, is a federal law that allows individuals to continue with the health insurance they had while employed before a "qualifying event." According to the U.S. Department of Labor, COBRA continuation coverage is "often more expensive" than the amount that employees have previously paid.
 
According to HealthCare.gov, the annual open enrollment period is Nov. 1 through Dec.15. But even though the ACA enrollment period ended, losing previous coverage is considered a "qualifying event" that opens up a special enrollment period. Americans may have 60 days before or after the "qualifying event" to enroll in an ACA plan, or they may have to wait until the next open enrollment period to apply. 

There may not be a federal action to reopen the marketplaces, but 11 states and the District of Columbia have established an extended special health insurance enrollment window for those impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. The 11 states are California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington. All these states control their own marketplaces. 

New York Governor Cuomo announced Thursday that New York is extending open enrollment for health insurance through May 15 while California is expanding its special enrollment period until June 30. 

The administration's decision angered top Democrats, including 2020 Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who say there is a need to create a special sign-up window for Americans during the global coronavirus pandemic. 

"The President must change course and allow open enrollment in the Affordable Care Act, as even Republican governors have called on him to do," Biden said in a statement on Thursday. 

Pelosi said Mr. Trump's decision to not extend the enrollment period is "no surprise" given his support for a lawsuit to overturn the Affordable Care Act. 

"So, instead of saying no to open up a new enrollment period, he [president] should be saying no to his case before the Supreme Court, which is very, very harmful in normal times and in these extraordinary times, very destructive," Pelosi said. 

Kristin Brown contributed reporting 

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