The open enrollment period to sign up for 2022 health insurance through the federal marketplace kicked off on Nov. 1. The annual enrollment period is always an important time for individuals without coverage to look into their options and for others already getting their insurance through the exchange to re-enroll or change their plan. With the heightened concerns of the COVID-19 pandemic health crisis and with ongoing worker shortages suggesting greater numbers may not have access to employer-sponsored plans, there’s added urgency for the under- and uninsured to investigate the plans available through the healthcare.gov exchange.

The good news here in New Hampshire is that sign-ups for coverage through the federal exchange have been trending upward during the pandemic. Much of the credit goes to a more favorable environment in Washington and an effort by New Hampshire officials to make coverage more affordable and encourage enrollment.

The open enrollment period for 2021 originally ended in December of last year — the then-typical schedule under the Affordable Care Act. Citing the uncertainties of the ongoing pandemic, however, President Biden within his first 10 days ordered a special enrollment period, eventually extended to Aug. 15. Also, the American Rescue Plan passed by Congress last year made more generous advance premium tax credit payments available to many, which reduced the average after-credit premium cost to new consumers by 30 percent, according to the N.H. Insurance Department. Meanwhile, the state and other stakeholders ramped up outreach efforts to encourage enrollment. The result: After a period of declining signups, enrollments jumped significantly for 2021, with 48,000 getting coverage through the exchange.

The efforts to spur enrollment for the upcoming year have continued. The open enrollment period for 2022 will last an additional month — until Jan. 15. Premiums for the plans available through the exchange have gone down again, in part aided by stability in the state’s individual health insurance market from a federal waiver application filed by Gov. Sununu’s administration and also by enhancements from Washington under the American Rescue Plan. New Hampshire’s Sen. Maggie Hassan said the premiums for Granite Staters purchasing coverage through the exchange have been halved by recent changes under the American Rescue Plan, resulting in annual savings of nearly $1,000 per person. And, the Union Leader reported, Sununu credited the state’s initiatives for contributing to a 35 percent drop in benchmark individual market rates since 2018, to be 7 percent lower in 2022.

Recent federal action has also made more assistance available to the state to help residents in navigating their options for coverage. This, too, is a reversal of a trend under the Trump administration, which sought to undercut the Affordable Care Act by sharply limiting efforts to provide assistance to consumers or otherwise encourage enrollment.

With premiums lower and additional enrollment assistance available, those without health insurance and those currently getting insurance through the exchange should begin exploring the available coverage plans and eligibility for federal subsidy. Anyone can enroll through the healthcare.gov marketplace website. And help in understanding options and enrolling can be obtained by contacting one of the state’s navigator grantees – Health Market Connect (hmcnh.com or 603.390.2021) and First Choice Services (acanavigator.com/nh/home or 1.877.211.NAVI). Similarly, Cheshire Medical Center makes assistance in the application process available to patients and non-patients alike through its family resource counseling (603.354.5454, ext. 2792), and there’s information on the healthcare.gov site about contacting certified brokers in the region.

For most of the decade since its enactment, the Affordable Care Act has been buffeted by efforts to undermine it. Improvements are still needed, but the ACA’s importance in encouraging greater accessibility to health-care coverage is now well established. Credit goes to Congress, including New Hampshire’s delegation, and the Biden administration and also to Gov. Sununu and his administration for steps to make coverage through the federal exchange even more affordable and attractive that are particularly welcome during a vulnerable period.

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