By Shereen Siewert

Today,’s market for subsidized health plans reopens for three months.

“If you are uninsured, there is a very good chance you could get free or low-cost coverage,” said Cynthia Cox, a vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation and director of its ACA program, in a CNBC report.

From now until May 15, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will run a $50 million advertising budget, a sharp increase from the roughly $10 million per year used to publicize Affordable Care Act enrollment under the Trump administration.

Former President Barack Obama’s health law has been on the books over a decade, but surveys consistently show that many people lacking job-based insurance do not realize they may qualify, according to the Associated Press. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that about 33 million people are uninsured this year.

This special signup period will especially encourage Black and Latino communities to explore getting health care coverage.

At Foundation Communities, an Austin, Texas, nonprofit that serves low-income working people, program director Kori Hattemer says she’s seeing an uptick in interest. Although her agency had not started advertising, appointments for enrollment assistance booked up quickly. Volunteer counselors are being called back.

For clients, “it’s their last chance probably to enroll in health insurance for 2021,” Hattemer said.

By some estimates, 4 million uninsured people could qualify for a plan with no premium payment, and 4.9 million more could get subsidies to reduce the cost.

Most people who enroll in the marketplace receive tax credits, or subsidies, reducing their monthly premiums. They could also qualify for additional cost-sharing benefits.

How much will you pay?

According to the average national premium – without subsidies or tax credits – for a silver plan through the ACA exchange is $462 monthly. That amount can vary from location to location. People who qualify for subsidies pay significantly less.

Some people are surprised to learn they qualify for subsidies even if their income is above poverty level, health officials say. Subsidies are offered for families with income up to 400 percent of the poverty level. That translates to annual income of $51,040 for individuals or up to $104,800 for a family of four.

To estimate how much you will pay, visit this site for a free calculator.

States that expanded Medicaid have different rules, but Wisconsin has not so far chosen the expansion. People who qualify for Medicaid can sign up anytime for coverage, not just during the three-month window.

Why now?

Advocates say the move is necessary because so many people lost their health care during COVID-19 due to job losses.

Estimates show that as many as 14 million people may have lost health coverage and some experts expect it will be the greatest loss of coverage ever recorded.

Typically, insurers are cautious about allowing enrollment outside of the traditional open enrollment deadlines as it can attract consumers who are sick and need to use coverage, resulting in adverse selection. But this time, many insurance providers are applauding the decision to reopen enrollment, given the magnitude of the crisis.

The special enrollment period will allow people to enroll in health care plans without having to show proof of a qualifying life event, such as losing a job, that would allow them to sign up outside traditional open enrollment.