Job losses associated with the pandemic stripped many Nevadans of their health insurance, forcing them to purchase their own policies.
That led to enhancements in the Nevada Health Exchange online insurance marketplace, which begins open enrollment on Sunday. The exchange is the only place Nevadans can access the federal insurance subsidies that are part of the Affordable Care Act.
Heather Korbulic, executive director of the exchange, told State of Nevada that her office has prepared for an expected increase in traffic, including extending the open enrollment period by a month, to Jan. 15.
“At Nevada Health Link, we are targeting all sorts of Nevadans who are eligible for exchange this year, including people who are newly unemployed and have lost access to their employer-sponsored coverage,” she said.
The exchange will be trying to get the word out to people who are not eligible for Medicare or Medicaid but don't get benefits from their employer.
“We know that there’s lots of people who have fallen off over the last several months, and so we’re certainly reaching out to them and trying to help them navigate this world of insurance,” she said.
Korbulic advised people who are in that position to find one of 700 certified brokers or navigators around the state to help them pick the right health plan for their situation.
She said insurance can be complicated and getting professional help is critical.
There will be two new plans available. Select Health will be open for residents of Nye and Clark County.
Friday Health Plans, a new carrier on the exchange, is dedicated to individual, gig worker, and small-business customers. It will be available statewide.
Its CEO, Sal Gentile, told KNPR's State of Nevada people can buy the company's plans through the exchange, brokers or directly from the company.
“Our target is to give our clients value from the day they sign up and start paying premiums. We saw the Nevada demographics as a great fit for that product,” he said.
Gentile said there are more freelance workers, small businesses and family-owned businesses in Nevada, making it a perfect fit for the company.
Besides the new plans, the exchange will be working closely with Medicaid. Korbulic said because of the pandemic the evaluation of people applying for the low-income health insurance program has slowed down.
But when those re-determinations pick back up, the exchange will be working with Medicaid to help people who are no longer eligible for the program to get health insurance through the exchange.
“Pandemics are a terrible time to be uninsured and we want to make sure Nevadans have access to quality and comprehensive health plans,” she said.
Since February, Medicaid has seen a 16 percent increase in the number of people using it, Medicaid administrator Suzanne Bierman said.
But there are still people who don't know they qualify for the program and therefore don't apply.
“Pre-COVID, Nevada had the 6th highest remaining uninsured rate of all the states in the nation,” Bierman said.
She said about 400,000 Nevadans are uninsured and half of them would qualify if they applied.
Heather Korbulic, executive director, Silver State Health Insurance Exchange; Suzanne Bierman, Medicaid administrator, Nevada Division of Health Care Financing and Policy; Sal Gentile, CEO, Friday Health Plans