Community Health Centers' Role in Open Enrollment

February 17, 2020

Every year, the Health Insurance Marketplace opens for consumers to enroll in or renew their health coverage. For most consumers, this is the only time of year to enroll in health care coverage. The most recent Open Enrollment Period, November 1st to December 15th, offered plans for coverage starting January 1, 2020. With Open Enrollment now behind us, we wanted to look at how community health centers have helped get more people enrolled in health insurance so they can access healthcare services.

Throughout the 2020 Open Enrollment Period, approximately 8.3 million people selected a plan through the Health Insurance Marketplace. This included over two million new consumers. In Iowa, there were over 54,000 cumulative plan selections, which includes the number of people who applied and selected a health insurance plan, minus any cancellations from consumers or insurers.

Health centers have a large role in outreach and enrollment, the term used to describe educating and enrolling people in the health insurance plan that works best for them. They are dedicated to assisting consumers throughout the enrollment process by providing free, in-person assistance.

This assistance includes helping people pick a plan that best fits their needs, explaining what the plan covers and explaining how to use it. Health centers are one of the few organizations that have continued to provide this kind of in-person assistance, which is especially vital for low-income and rural populations. This assistance is provided by Certified Application Counselors (CACs) at community health centers. CACs complete training every year through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to ensure they are up to date on all changes to health coverage provided through the Health Insurance Marketplace.

The work of CACs doesn’t end when the Open Enrollment Period concludes. CACs are available to assist consumers with answering questions about coverage and assisting with Special Enrollment Periods throughout the year. Enrollment in Medicaid coverage is also an ongoing process and can be completed at any time.

Health centers provide more than integrated medical services. Explaining how different health insurance options work is important for patients to understand their own care, chronic conditions, and treatment options. In improving health literacy, Iowa’s health centers are also empowering patients to seek out the best care for themselves and their loved ones.