As the COVID-19 pandemic enters its second year, affordable health insurance is more important than ever. To help boost coverage for Americans who have lost their jobs during the pandemic, the federal marketplace reopened for enrollment last week.

Get Covered 2021 man wearing face maskAs of January, about 15 million uninsured people were eligible to shop for plans on the federal marketplace, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. How many of those people sign up before the special enrollment period ends May 15 will hinge on whether they are aware it is available.

During the last regular enrollment period, which ended in December, about 8.3 million Americans obtained insurance via the federal marketplace, a 7% increase over last year’s enrollment period.

Given that millions of people lost their employer-based health insurance last year, a jump in enrollment was expected. But Cynthia Cox, vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation and director for its program on the Affordable Care Act, said that given that unemployment is at historic levels and hospitals are overrun with COVID-19 patients, a 7% increase is not impressive.

“During the worst pandemic to hit our country in the last 100 years, I would have expected even more people to try and get coverage,” Cox told The Nation’s Health.

In terms of new enrollees, signups actually decreased compared to 2020, a foundation analysis found.

“A lot of the strong enrollment we saw during open enrollment was actually driven by people who were holding on to their plans throughout the year,” Cox said.

Cox attributes the relatively meager increase to budget cuts for advertising, marketing and consumer assistance by the Trump administration. Americans needing health insurance may not have known they could buy coverage through the federal exchange,

During the special enrollment period that is happening now, the Biden administration has promised strong marketing so that people in the 36 states that use the federal exchange are aware of their options. Officials are also calling on health workers and supporters to help share information in their communities.

Americans deserve to know about their available health insurance options, Cox said. The federal marketplace includes inexpensive and sometimes free plans for qualifying individuals and families that could protect them from catastrophic medical bills, including those from COVID-19.

“Considering that there is probably close to 4 million people that can get a free bronze plan on the exchange, the trade-off is clear,” Cox said.

To help spread the word about the special enrollment period, check out free graphics and messaging from Get Covered 2021.

To shop for a health insurance plan, visit or, or call 1-800-318-2596 for assistance in over 150 languages.