Representative Malinowski Calls For ACA Special Enrollment Period for New Jerseyans

March 23, 2020
Press Release

(Somerville, NJ) Today, on the 10th Anniversary of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Congressman Tom Malinowski (D-NJ) called on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to open a Special Enrollment Period in New Jersey to allow uninsured and underinsured residents harmed by COVID-19 related furloughs and layoffs to enroll in health coverage through the federal health insurance exchange. 

The growing crisis has led to sudden job losses and a spike in unemployment compensation claims in New Jersey. Last Monday alone 15,000 New Jerseyans applied for unemployment insurance benefits, a twelvefold increase over normal levels. Job losses are expected to increase, and those depending on employer sponsored health coverage should be able to gain coverage through the federal insurance exchange.

“The wave of furloughs, layoffs, and business closures resulting from the coronavirus crisis has caused massive job losses and a sharp spike in claims for unemployment compensation in New Jersey… As job losses mount and employer provided health coverage becomes less reliable it is imperative that those hit hardest by this crisis be given the opportunity to seek coverage through the federal insurance exchange,”wrote the lawmakers.

“Those who have lost their jobs as a result of this crisis shouldn’t have to worry about crushing medical debt whether it be COVID-19 related or simply the result of an unforeseen medical expense,” said Representative Malinowski. “It’s more important than ever that New Jerseyans remain insured. We owe our families that safety net.

Find the text of the letter below and here.

Dear Secretary Azar: 

We strongly recommend that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) open a Special Enrollment Period (SEP) in New Jersey to allow uninsured and underinsured residents to enroll in health coverage through the federal health insurance exchange. This SEP should begin immediately, last at least 60 days and be open to all families and individuals, who are especially at-risk for COVID-19, to purchase health coverage through the federal platform. With COVID-19 now considered a global pandemic and confirmed cases rapidly increasing in New Jersey, it is imperative that we do everything we can to facilitate access to coverage so that patients are not discouraged from seeking diagnosis and treatment for fear of incurring medical debt.

On March 9th, Governor Phil Murphy declared a State of Emergency and a Public Health Emergency, to ramp up New Jersey’s efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19. To date, the coronavirus outbreak has claimed 27 lives in New Jersey and the number of cases has spiked to 2,844 .[i] Additionally, the wave of furloughs, layoffs, and business closures resulting from the coronavirus crisis has caused massive job losses and a sharp spike in claims for unemployment compensation in New Jersey. Last Monday alone, it was reported that 15,000 Jerseyans applied for unemployment insurance benefits, a twelvefold increase from normal levels.[ii] As job losses mount and employer provided health coverage becomes less reliable it is imperative that those hit hardest by this crisis be given the opportunity to seek coverage through the federal insurance exchange.

Declaring an SEP during an emergency would not be unprecedented, and the COVID-19 epidemic is indeed a grave emergency. In 2017, HHS established an SEP for Americans living in areas that the Federal Emergency Management Agency deemed eligible for federal assistance following the destruction and aftermath of Hurricanes Irma, Maria, Nate, and Harvey. 

New Jerseyans, and all Americans, must have access to affordable health insurance regardless of their employment status. Both to cover any costs related to a COVID-19 diagnosis, but also to ensure that health care remains available and affordable in these times of economic uncertainty. We can all agree that expanding the availability of coverage will be critical to managing this public health crisis and the expenses associated with it.  Thank you for your attention to this critical issue and we look forward to your response.

Sincerely,