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Health-Care Exchange Special Enrollment Window Varies

With the feds leading the way, states are reopening their health-care exchanges to uninsured and eligible residents as part of the latest COVID relief plan. But not all enrollment windows are the same.

Obamacare pins that say Get Covered America.
Most states have reopened their health-care exchanges in an effort to insure their residents during the COVID-19 pandemic. (John Kuntz/
On Jan. 28, 2021, the Biden administration and the Department of Health and Human Services enacted an executive order to reopen the Federal Healthcare Exchange through a Special Enrollment Period (SEP) as part of a complex package of COVID-19 relief measures. The SEP runs from Feb. 15 through May 15, 2021, allowing uninsured and eligible residents to apply for and enroll in health insurance. Most states use the federal marketplace for their health-care enrollment, but many that don’t have also reopened or extended their enrollment window to align with the federal order.

There are 15 states (including Washington, D.C.) that have their own health-care exchange system, and all of them have enacted some form of COVID-19 SEP for their uninsured residents at the urging of the Biden administration. Some of the statewide exchanges, however, have variations from the federal enrollment period.

Connecticut is the state that most deviates from the federal SEP in a way that could be difficult for residents. While the state’s health-care system, Access Health CT, has opened a Special Enrollment Period to align with the federal mandate, the state’s period only opens for a month. Uninsured residents have from Feb. 15 through March 15, 2021 to enroll, two months less than those following the federal exchange.

Idaho has similarly limited its enrollment period. While most states opened their COVID-19 SEP in February, Idaho residents may not access the enrollment period until March 1, and then they only have until the end of the month to apply and enroll in coverage.

Connecticut and Idaho’s constraints on the special enrollment window are not easily explained by party. Democrats control the governor’s office and dominate the Legislature in Connecticut while Republicans control both executive and legislative branches in Idaho.

Washington, D.C., by contrast, has made its SEP more flexible than the hard date deadlines that President Biden and HHS outlined. Mayor Bowser has opened DC Health Link’s COVID-19 Special Enrollment Period from Feb. 1 until the end of D.C.’s public health emergency, giving residents assurance that they can get coverage as long as the pandemic continues.

The pandemic forced many businesses to transfer their services to an online platform and health-care enrollment is no different. Nearly every single exchange, both federal and state, may be accessed online, except for Vermont. Vermonters have nearly the same three-month period to enroll in health-care coverage; however, enrollment cannot be done online and must occur over the phone with the Customer Support Center. Residents in states that rely on the federal exchange may enroll in coverage at

For more details and resources about states’ health-care exchange options, please see the map below.

Zoe is the digital editor for Governing.
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