The 2015 tax season has come to an end and with it so has the special enrollment period (SEP) for tax filers seeking marketplace coverage. The SEP was introduced by the Administration for anybody filing their 2014 taxes this year who didn’t purchase coverage and were hit by the $95/1% of income penalty and wanted to avoid being hit by a $325/2% of income penalty for the 2015 tax year by getting an extra chance to purchase coverage outside of the open enrollment window. After the big lead up, a total of...drumroll please...147,000 individuals signed up for coverage. No, that’s not the figure for, say just California or one particular region of the country, it’s the total number of enrollees across the 36 federal marketplace states during the period lasting from March 15 through April 30. This total adds on to the 11.4 million who enrolled in coverage during the regular open enrollment period, which ended on February 15. The Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) said that it will not offer a similar tax-time SEP next year, claiming that it was a one-time only event for individuals figuring out too late that they should have gotten coverage during the law’s first year.
State-based exchanges also released their SEP totals, and a few stood out for low enrollment numbers. Vermont’s Health Connect enrolled just 97 households during the period while Rhode Island’s Health Source exchange nabbed another 25 households. Amazingly, not a single person in Hawaii signed up during the SEP, which is emblematic of the state’s overall enrollment woes of its exchange, the Hawaii Health Connector. In its first year, only 8,592 residents signed up for exchange coverage and recent data shows only 37,000 Hawaii residents signed up for coverage through this year. Last week, the state decided to formally abandon the exchange, which needed another $28 million to keep its doors open. It is in the process of transitioning to Healthcare.gov, in a move expected to cost $30 million, and will formally cease operations on February 28, 2016. It will become the second state to formally abandon its state-based exchange, following Oregon earlier this year.