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How Coronavirus, Supreme Court Affect Obamacare Open Enrollment

Health insurance navigators are urging people to sign up for Obamacare plans to ensure they are covered in the new year, despite uncertainty about the Affordable Care Act's future.
Health insurance navigators are urging people to sign up for Obamacare plans to ensure they are covered in the new year, despite uncertainty about the Affordable Care Act's future.

Job losses caused by the pandemic are driving more people to the Obamacare marketplace. But some are concerned the Supreme Court could dismantle the law and leave them without coverage.

Open enrollment for Obamacare is underway as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments in a case that could determine the future of the Affordable Care Act that created plans for people without health insurance.

Health News Florida's Stephanie Colombini talked with Jodi Ray, director of Florida Covering Kids & Families, about how the case and the coronavirus pandemic are making this an unusual enrollment period.

The group is based at the University of South Florida and helps residents navigate the health care marketplace.

How are you another navigators doing? This pandemic has definitely thrown off the way you work and it's affected the people you serve.

That is very true, all of that. You know, since March, we were on lockdown and we had to figure out how we could continue to provide the assistance that we know we needed to provide.

We also saw a huge increase in the need for people to get help for special enrollments because of COVID. So seeing all of these job changes occur, people are losing the jobs they had. We know that predominantly Americans' access to health coverage is largely dependent on employer-sponsored insurance that you get through your job.

And when people are losing that ability to be dependent on that, they're looking for what their alternative options are in the marketplace, and programs like Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program. So we're having to help them navigate these plans and these programs.

Doing virtual and phone appointments is not necessarily effective for everybody, not everybody has either got the technology or is computer savvy, and doing them over the phone is not always effective if there’s not a lot of health care literacy as well.

We're all doing the best we can, and now during open enrollment, we have been working with the [University of South Florida] College of Public Health and the university to set up our space to be protective so we’re able to do some in-person assistance. But we're limiting that to only those that it would not be effective to do phone or virtual.

What are you hearing from people? There's so much uncertainty, we've got this election and how the Affordable Care Act might change depending on who is in the federal government.

And then we have this Supreme Court case which will determine whether the ACA is constitutional or not, and could completely change the way Americans get health care. Are you hearing from people that these are issues on their minds?

We are. We’re getting questions. As you know, health care is the top issue, between the Affordable Care Act and what's going on with the pandemic. And of course, now is the worst time to take away people's access to coverage.

The thing we're telling people is, right now, the Affordable Care Act is the law of the land. 2021 coverage for open enrollment is open now. It will be open until December 15. These are things we know.

So what I'm trying to do is drive home, what do we know? We know that to have coverage on January 1, you have to apply and enroll before December 15. And once people make those binder payments, which is your first premium payment, you have a contract with the health insurance plan for 2021.

What will happen with the Supreme Court? I have no idea. I don't think it's as simple as just deeming it unconstitutional, because you're talking about dismantling a large part of our healthcare system.

Now it's been 10 years. There are other things that are tied to the Affordable Care Act, not just the marketplace. You have the protections, pre-existing condition protections, you have the ability for kids to stay on their parents’ insurance until they’re 26, you have the ability to get preventive care at no extra cost. Those things would go away.

An unconstitutional ruling would definitely cause some chaos, but that might not happen. The court could keep those things intact. Either way, we probably won't know for months. What's your advice for people right now?

I would go back to things that we do know. And right now, if you want coverage for January 1, you have to apply and enroll now.

The other thing is we have more plans than we've ever had. We have well over 100 plans, and we have new insurers in the Florida market. So I think it's important to look at what those options are, and for people to make sure they protected themselves and take everything one day at a time at this point.

Struggling to choose a health care plan? Get free assistance by calling 877-813-9115 or visit

Copyright 2020 WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7

Stephanie Colombini joined WUSF Public Media in December 2016 as Producer of Florida Matters, WUSF’s public affairs show. She’s also a reporter for WUSF’s Health News Florida project.