In late August and early September, three hurricanes – Harvey, Irma and Maria – swept through the southern United States, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands resulting in mass displacement, lost properties, loss of income and other devastation. Last month, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced that open enrollment would be extended this year for those affected by the hurricanes. This applies to the Medicare open enrollment period as well, which started on October 15 and would typically run through December 7. For hurricane victims, there may be extra time to enroll this year.
Extended Open Enrollment Period
According to the announcement, individuals who were affected by the 2017 hurricane season will now be able to enroll, dis-enroll or change their Medicare health or prescription drug plans effective immediately through the end of 2017. Regular open enrollment for Medicare lasts about eight weeks, ending on December 7. Those who had to deal with the aftermath of several major hurricanes will now have until the end of the year to make plan changes for 2018.
The extension is in addition to any other special enrollment period you may be eligible for through December 31. In addition, CMS announced waivers to requirements under Medicare and Medicaid for those who are affected by the hurricanes. These waivers may include waiving the 3-day prior hospitalization rule for coverage or allowing replacement prescription refills if you have lost your medication due to the hurricanes.
Reason for Extension
Earlier this year, then-Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price declared a public health state of emergency in the southern United States, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, allowing CMS to take additional steps to assist those affected by the storms. CMS Administrator Seema Verma said that the extension was designed to assist the millions of people who were affected by three major hurricanes earlier this fall.
Adding the special enrollment periods provide those individuals with additional opportunities to make changes to their Medicare plans as well as allowing them to enroll or dis-enroll. The devastation is so widespread that many people are not only facing the loss of their homes, but loss of income as well since many businesses were also destroyed in the storms.
Areas Included in Extension
The extension does not include the entire United States but only those affected by the hurricanes. These areas include specific counties in:
- Puerto Rico
- South Carolina
- U.S. Virgin Islands
To take advantage of the extension, you must call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) to learn what steps to take to make changes or enroll in the program.
CMS says that it will continue to monitor the situation in areas affected by the hurricanes to determine if the enrollment period should be extended beyond December 31. The additional enrollment period is designed to assist consumers who are struggling to recover after devastating losses, while the waivers are designed to grant healthcare providers, facilities and suppliers with the flexibility needed to assist those adversely affected by the storms.