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CMS offers special insurance enrollment opportunities for Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin islands

CMS said that an "exceptional circumstance special enrollment period" is available for those who move, or are temporarily displaced.

Beth Jones Sanborn, Managing Editor

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is extending special open enrollment periods for the people of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands who were adversely affected by the catastrophic 2017 hurricanes so individuals and families who were impacted can access health coverage on the Exchange. They will have extra time to join, drop, or switch Medicare health and prescription drug plans.  

CMS first announced initial special enrollment period opportunities in September. This week's new announcement means these opportunities will be available through March 31, 2018.

[Also: How hospitals are grappling with medical supply shortages caused by Hurricane Maria]

For the Federal Health Insurance Exchange special enrollment period, those affected by the 2017 hurricanes in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands who relocated to a state that uses the federal exchange but missed 2018 enrollment are eligible for an "exceptional circumstance special enrollment period" which will allow them to enroll through March 31, 2018. Those interested must contact the Exchange Call Center at 1-800-318-2596 to request this opportunity, CMS said.

Another special extension applies to Medicare. Individuals can enroll, withdraw or switch Medicare health or prescription drug plans through March 31, 2018. Beneficiaries who made a choice during Medicare's fall open enrollment period can still use this special enrollment period, as can those who left Puerto Rico and would like to enroll in a local Medicare Advantage or Medicare prescription drug plan. 

Beneficiaries who change their permanent residence and no longer reside in their plan service area can join a Medicare Advantage or prescription drug plan offered in their new area through an existing residence change special enrollment period. Those who were temporarily displaced and return to Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands can also take advantage of the residence change special enrollment period by calling 1-800-MEDICARE to request special enrollment.

"The impacts of a hurricane can last for months. These special enrollment periods provide the necessary flexibility for our beneficiaries to obtain and maintain coverage while dealing with the lingering aftermath of the storms.  We will continue to monitor the circumstances in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and will take additional action as necessary," said CMS Administrator Seema Verma.

The impact of this past fall's hurricane season is rippling across the healthcare industry in the United States. Massive shortages in highly-utilized IV bags such as Baxter's mini-bag and mini-bag plus have forced hospitals to either ration their supplies, find alternative methods of administering liquid medications, or opt for oral medications where possible. The shortage has posed a particular roadblock for those patients who require IV fluids because they can not ingest them. 

The shortage has run headlong into what is shaping up to be one of the worst flu seasons in recent history, with patients overwhelming hospitals and "widespread" flu outbreaks being reported in all but one state, Hawaii. Flu patients often suffer from dehydration and nausea, necessitating IV fluids for their recovery.

A recent update from the FDA said all the commericial manufacturers of the bags with facilities in Puerto Rico were at least back on the commercial power grid there. The system though is still prone to blips and backup generators are being kept on hand.

Twitter: @BethJSanborn
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