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February brings good news for people who don’t have health insurance. Due to a special enrollment period, the federal insurance marketplace is once again open for people to sign up for private coverage.

President Joe Biden ordered the marketplace’s reopening through May 15 as part of his COVID-19 relief plan. In the last year, millions of people lost their employer-sponsored health coverage when they lost their jobs. Now, they’ll have another opportunity to enroll in a plan of their choice. 

“As we continue to battle COVID-19, it’s even more critical that Americans have meaningful access to health care,” President Biden avowed. 

Having insurance coverage is an important first step toward meaningful access. But beyond having insurance, patients should be able to see their provider of choice and get the medications their doctor prescribes. Health plans – both private and public – don’t always allow that.

Instead, patients often face: 

Cost sharing also factors into insured patients’ ability to access care. Some patients might choose a plan with a low monthly premium without realizing that it requires higher out-of-pocket costs to see the doctor or fill a prescription. The prospect of hefty medical bills can cause patients to delay the care they need.

Policymakers across the country are taking note of patients’ experiences. Legislators in Oklahoma and Iowa, for example, are considering bills to address the harmful impacts of non-medical switching. Meanwhile, half a dozen other states are looking at regulating the use of step therapy. 

A special enrollment period offers a valuable opportunity for uninsured Americans to secure coverage. Looking ahead, policymakers can deliver even more good news by reforming the barriers that keep insured patients from accessing timely and optimal care.

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