May 3--BOSTON -- The state's health insurance exchange is seeing a surge of new members amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Enrollment in the Health Connector, which allows people without insurance to sign up for coverage, is up 45,000 over the past two months.
The activity comes as hundreds of thousands of people are jobless and without employer-sponsored health insurance as a result of shutdowns aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19.
Officials at the Health Connector say they've signed up at least 20,000 new people enrolled through the online exchange, while another 11,600 people with existing plans who've seen their income drop have shifted to MassHealth, the state's Medicaid program.
At least 12,000 people have moved into another health exchange plan.
"We've seen a lot of new enrollments and also a lot of activity among existing enrollees, updating their income information," said Audrey Morse Gasteier, chief of policy and strategy at the Health Connector. "We expect there could be a lot more people in coming months."
The Health Connector has extended a special enrollment period until May 25 for anyone who has lost their job and insurance as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Normally, the exchange only enrolls new members from November through January.
Gasteier said people who have lost their job or seen their income change, and need health insurance, can go to the online exchange and get coverage.
"Any uninsured person can come in the door, shop for coverage, put their information in, and find out what they qualify for," she said.
The Health Connector sells private insurance to individuals who don't get coverage through an employer or make too much money to qualify for MassHealth.
Most people who purchase insurance through the state exchange qualify for government subsidies to offset the cost of premiums.
Nearly 300,000 people have enrolled in health coverage through the Connector, the highest number since the exchange was set up 13 years ago, Gasteier said.
Gov. Charlie Baker has taken a number of steps to ensure that people who've lost their jobs and health coverage don't fall through the cracks.
His administration pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into MassHealth and also directed the state Division of Insurance to require private and government-backed plans to cover the costs of testing and treatment for people affected by the virus. This includes waiving co-pays and deductibles.
Health care advocates say they've heard from people who haven't had health coverage in years but are now seeking it.
"It's an interesting trend. These are the uninsured that we've been trying to reach for years," said Hannah Frigand, director of education and enrollment services at the nonprofit Health Care for All. "It shows that unfortunately it sometimes takes a major health care scare for people to seek coverage."
Anyone who needs health insurance can call (877) 623-6765 for information or go to MAhealthconnector.org to fill out an application.
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group's newspapers and websites. Email him at [email protected]
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