As COVID cases rise, Oklahoma sees increased insurance signups

A nurse fills out a form outside of the emergency room at Integris Baptist Medical Center in Oklahoma City as the hospital prepared for an influx of coronavirus patients in April 2020. 

OKLAHOMA CITY – As COVID-19 cases surge again in Oklahoma, there is some positive news on the state’s health care front. 

The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services stated in August that nearly 34,500 Oklahoma residents have gained health insurance through the Affordable Care Act exchange, commonly known as Obamacare. 

That preliminary enrollment figure for Feb. 15 to July 15 is more than double what Oklahoma has seen in recent years. 

The reason for the spike: President Joe Biden signed an executive order earlier this year to allow people to sign up or change their plans outside of the normal open enrollment that runs from November to mid-December. 

The special enrollment period, which ran until Aug. 15, also allowed both new and existing customers to see if they now are eligible for savings through a provision in the American Rescue Plan that Congress passed earlier this year. 

New enrollees who have purchased plans during the special enrollment period saw monthly premiums fall by 27% because of advance payments of premium tax credits, which are subsidies for low-to-moderate income buyers, according to Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services data.

Existing consumers ended up lowering their monthly premium after subsides by 40% nationally.

In addition, 2.6 million consumers nationally have returned to the Marketplace since April and lowered their monthly premiums after the tax credits by nearly 40%, on average.

For Oklahoma, preliminary data shows 59% of new consumers purchased plans with a monthly premium of $10 or less while 26% of returning consumers who changed their plan saw similar savings. 

Final data is expected later this summer. 

The increase in ACA sign-ups comes after Oklahoma saw a record-setting 171,551 people enroll in private plans through the Oklahoma exchange during last year’s open enrollment period. In addition, more than 150,000 Oklahomans have qualified for Medicaid coverage since July 1 under the expansion voters approved last year. 

In a state with the second-highest uninsured rate in the country at 14.3% (next to only Texas), officials on the state and federal level have repeatedly stressed the importance of health insurance, especially during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, to offer individuals protection and prevent hospitals from spending millions in uncompensated care

“Across the country, a continued demand for high-quality, low-cost health coverage persists,” said U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra in a statement. “Through strengthening the Affordable Care Act and pushing the Build Back Better Agenda, we remain committed to ensuring Americans find health coverage that works at the lowest cost possible.”

The special enrollment period has been supported by both Republicans and Democrats since it was introduced earlier this year.

“We all understand how important it is to have health insurance and access to affordable health care during this unprecedented time,” said Insurance Commissioner Glen Mulready, a Republican, in a press release earlier this summer. “In light of the pandemic, Oklahomans have become very aware of the value of health insurance. This is an opportunity to assess your family’s needs during this Special Enrollment Period.”

Democrats similarly applauded Biden’s move to create a special enrollment period – something that former President Donald Trump considered, but ultimately decided against when he was in office. 

“People are scared. Having access to health care is one less concern parents and families must face during this unprecedented crisis,” said Oklahoma Democratic Party Chair Alicia Andrews. “The Oklahoma Democratic Party is pleased to support reopening the enrollment period so that more citizens can sign up and stay healthy during the COVID outbreak.”