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Special Enrollment for Recent Natural Disasters – Individual Marketplace & Medicare Affected

On Wednesday, January 17, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) clarified its position on a special enrollment period created for victims of the 2017 hurricane season in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. The CMS announced in September that people in hurricane-impacted areas would be given a special enrollment period (SEP) until December 31, 2017 to sign up for or make changes to their health plans using the federally facilitated marketplace at HealthCare.gov.

Now, the CMS is allowing people in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to apply for an exceptional circumstance SEP through March 31, 2018. The special enrollment period for hurricane-impacted areas only applies to people who were unable to sign up during the regular season, which ended on December 15, 2017, or another special enrollment period and only to residents of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

To qualify for this exceptional circumstances SEP, you must have relocated to a state that uses the federal health insurance exchange, and you must have been unable to enroll during the standard signup timetable for 2018 coverage. If these situations apply to you, contact the Marketplace Call Center at 1-800-318-2596 for information on applying.

Medicare enrollment

This special enrollment period for hurricane-impacted areas also applies to Medicare enrollees who were unable to take advantage of Medicare’s annual open enrollment period, which ran from October 15 to December 7. Whether you signed up for a new Medicare health or drug plan during this time or not, those who have since relocated from the U.S. Virgin Islands or Puerto Rico may now take advantage of a special enrollment period to make changes to their Medicare plans.

This is especially useful for people who moved to a new area permanently and who can’t or won’t return to Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands. Medicare guidelines allow people who move to a new area – where their Medicare Advantage plans are no longer accepted or useful – to sign up for a new plan that fits their needs. Those who relocate have two months from the date of the move or the date they notify their plan about the move to sign up for a new plan.

If you return to Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands, you also qualify for a special enrollment period to make changes to your Medicare plan since this falls under the relocation guidelines. The CMS is offering the extra enrollment period for hurricane victims through March 31.

California wildfires

For people affected by the recent California wildfires, Medicare is also offering a special enrollment period that runs through March 31. Medicare enrollees who have been directly or indirectly impacted by the fires can make changes to their health or drug plans during this time. It extends to people who don’t live in California but who rely on other people who live in a wildfire-impacted area to make healthcare decisions. It does not extend to people who have already used another enrollment period, such as the annual enrollment period that runs from January 1 to March 31, to sign up for a plan.

Those with end-stage renal disease may have further limitations. To take advantage of the special enrollment period for hurricane or wildfire-impacted areas, contact Medicare or Social Security directly.

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