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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Special Enrollment Periods Offer Opportunities for Year-Round Outreach

Jessica Kendall

Director of State Partnerships

As we approach the end of April, the special enrollment period (SEP) for tax filers is coming to a close. The tax SEP was just one of many SEPs out there. Now enrollment assisters can focus their outreach and partnership efforts to target specific populations who may qualify for other SEPs. For advocacy groups and those providing application assistance, it’s time to spread the word that coverage is available for people now, as their lives change. 

It’s a lesser-known fact, but people can actually sign up for health coverage through an SEP 12 months out of the year if their circumstances change. This includes getting married, having a baby, or moving. See our infographic for what life events qualify for a special enrollment period. 

Tax-related SEP extends through April 30

For instance, this month, people who did not have health coverage in 2014 and were subject to the fee when they filed their taxes in states that use the federally facilitated marketplace were eligible for an SEP. This means that if people meet the below criteria, they can still apply for coverage through April 30, 2015. To be eligible for the tax-related SEP, consumers must:

  • Not have been aware of the ACA requirement to maintain minimum essential coverage until after February 15, 2015 (when open enrollment ended) or not have understood the meaning of that requirement;
  • Not be enrolled in 2015 coverage through the marketplace (or have other minimum essential coverage); and
  • Be subject to the individual shared responsibility payment (the penalty) on your 2014 taxes

Many organizations embraced the tax-related SEP and began building relationships and referrals with tax preparers to better spread the word that people can apply for coverage. We featured some examples of organizations that had successful referrals with tax-related sites in our webinar “February 16 and Beyond: What to do After Open Enrollment.” 

Estimates show a significant population of adults may be eligible for SEPs 

Following open enrollment, some organizations might be considering downsizing, shifting their staff’s efforts, and scaling back on their outreach efforts until October. This would be a mistake because they are missing out on the opportunity to enroll a sizeable number of people who qualify for an SEP. 

Estimates from last year published by Health Affairs and Enroll America offer evidence that a number of adults may be eligible for an SEP. These findings highlight a need to build momentum around finding those populations who may qualify for an SEP. 

Strategies for reaching consumers who might qualify for an SEP

Before second open enrollment, many organizations identified where uninsured consumers visit on a routine basis. For example, uninsured people visit health centers, community colleges, small businesses, etc. Using a similar exercise, brainstorm where people in your community go when they experience a life-changing event. But what happens in your community? 

Below are some examples of ideas from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation report “Special Enrollment Periods in 2014: A Study of Select States” and from the work we have seen implemented around the country. Keep in mind that many of the life-changing events actually happen in the spring through fall, and you can plan your outreach accordingly. For example, June is the most popular month to get married. And seasonal jobs usually switch during the change of winter to summer. So it’s important to reach out to county clerks office before June and employment offices at the beginning and end of seasonal work in your state.

If people:

  • Move—they may need a moving company, they need to update their address, and they may be renters. Where are the touch points that intersect with those folks? Local rental agencies, moving companies, and the post office are a good start. 
  • Get married—they usually want a venue (where do people get married in your town?), a certificate (check the county clerk’s office), a dress (bridal stores, consignments stores), and perhaps a person of faith to perform the ceremony. 
  • Have a birth, adoption, or placement for adoption—then they may visit parenting blogs, baby stores (new and used), maternity stores, midwives, hospitals, and pediatricians. 

As we think through enrollment in future years—especially moving into next year as the federally facilitated marketplace offers three-year long navigator grants—let’s start thinking about enrollment as a year-round effort. 

If you have questions or want to share success stories about your efforts to enroll people who experience a life-changing event, email us at