Hurricane victims get (a little) more time to sign up for Obamacare

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Myles Ma, CPFCSenior ReporterMyles Ma, CPFC, is a senior reporter and certified personal finance counselor at Policygenius, where he covers insurance and personal finance. His expertise has been featured in The Washington Post, PBS, CNBC, CBS News, USA Today, HuffPost, Salon, Inc. Magazine, MarketWatch, and elsewhere.

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People in areas struck by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma or Maria have an extra 16 days to enroll in healthcare through the Federal Health Insurance Exchange.

Anyone who lives in or moves from an area affected by a hurricane in 2017 is eligible for a special enrollment period that extends the 2018 annual enrollment period through Dec. 31, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) said in a press release Thursday.

These people should call the Marketplace Call Center at 1-800-318-2596 to request to use the special enrollment period.

CMS is also creating special enrollment periods for people who live in hurricane areas who want to change their Medicare health or prescription drug plans or make changes to their 2017 federal health exchange plan. They can make changes any time through the end of the year.

The agency left open the possibility that it would extend the special enrollment periods further.

“CMS will continue to examine the circumstances in the areas affected by hurricanes and will consider taking action that reaches beyond December 31, 2017, if needed,” the agency said in the press release.

Who’s eligible?

Anyone living anywhere that was declared an emergency or disaster area because of the hurricanes can use the special enrollment periods. These are listed on the Federal Emergency Management Area website and include parts of: Texas, Louisiana, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Florida, South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama.

Still a shorter signup period

There’s already been lots of changes to open enrollment, even without the hurricanes.

CMS is extending open enrollment for the Affordable Care Act (ACA), or Obamacare. This is the one time each year when people can use the exchanges to buy health insurance for the coming year.

This year, the Trump administration curtailed open enrollment on the federal exchanges from three months to 45 days. Without this special enrollment period, people using the exchanges only have until Dec. 15 to pick a plan.

The administration also slashed the budgets for advertising the exchanges and for navigators who help people sign up. The result has been that outside groups have tried to make up for the $90 million cut in advertising on their own, but the visibility of open enrollment is likely to take a hit regardless.

At the same time, Republicans in Congress keep trying to repeal the ACA altogether, though their efforts seem to have been temporarily stalled. So for at least one more open enrollment, Obamacare remains the law of the land.

All these things have probably left many people looking to sign up for plans super confused. If you’re looking to shop on the exchange, PolicyGenius has resources to help people shop the exchanges and answer any questions about health insurance.

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