You still have time to purchase a health insurance plan for 2018 if you were affected by Hurricane Harvey

By Melissa McChesney, Center for Public Policy Priorities

The open enrollment period for health insurance is extended to December 31, 2017 for Texans who live in a disaster-affected area, or did when Hurricane Harvey hit. That extends the deadlien by two weeks from the regular open enrollment period for health insurance through the Obamacare Marketplace that ended Friday December 15.

According to FEMA, the Special Enrollment Period covers Texans in the following counties: Aransas, Austin, Bastrop, Bee, Bexar, Brazoria, Burleson, Caldwell, Calhoun, Chambers, Colorado, Comal, Dallas, DeWitt, Fayette, Fort Bend, Galveston, Goliad, Gonzales, Grimes, Guadalupe, Hardin, Harris, Jackson, Jasper, Jefferson, Jim Wells, Karnes, Kleberg, Lavaca, Lee, Liberty, Madison, Matagorda, Milam, Montgomery, Newton, Nueces, Orange, Polk, Refugio, Sabine, San Augustine, San Jacinto, San Patricio, Travis, Tarrant, Tyler, Victoria, Washington, Walker, Waller, and Wharton. These include the Austin, Corpus Christi, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, and San Antonio metro areas.

15.8 million Texans, or 60 percent of the state’s population, live in counties eligible for the hurricane special enrollment period. The attached map shows detail of the affected counties where Texans are  eligible to get an extension to sign up for 2018 coverage.

Applicants only need to attest to living in one of the affected counties currently or at the time of the hurricane and to not being able to complete enrollment due to the hurricane. No special documentation will be required.

“Hurricane Harvey affected millions of Texans, many of whom are still living in temporary housing — often away from their hometown — and may need extra time gathering the information they need to enroll,” said Melissa McChesney of the Center for Public Policy Priorities, a member of the Cover Texas Now coalition. “This extension of the sign-up window gives people more time to find the best plan and determine whether they qualify for financial assistance.”

Texas counties eligible for extended enrollment.
Texas counties eligible for extended enrollment.

Texans signing up during the special enrollment period will need to take some extra steps to enroll. The extension is not automatically granted on the healthcare.gov website. Cover Texas Now strongly encourages affected Texans to access local help from trained application assisters for this special process.  The process starts with a visit to healthcare.gov and completing a 2018 application, and then calling the Marketplace Call Center at 1-800-318-2596 to request the special enrollment period. Applicants will need to explicitly state that they currently live in, or at the time of the hurricane lived in, a county on the FEMA list, and that they are requesting additional time to sign up because of Hurricane Harvey.

Texans in hurricane-affected areas who sign up during the special enrollment period through December 31, 2017 will not have to pay a fine on their taxes in 2018 for missing the original deadline.

Local enrollment assistance is still available across Texas. Enrollment programs are listed on connector.getcoveredamerica.org and localhelp.healthcare.gov. People can also call 2-1-1 in many communities to get connected with local enrollment centers.