MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – A special enrollment period under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) means thousands of West Virginians could have access to affordable health insurance.

The new COVID-19 open enrollment period started on Feb. 15, 2021, and ends on May 15, 2021. With the window for action limited and the healthcare marketplace being complicated, many people have struggled to successfully find coverage. That is why WV Navigator, a nonprofit, is hoping to help West Virginians for free.

“There’s been thousands of West Virginians that have lost their job this past year; therefore their health insurance,” Program Director Jeremy Smith said. “So this is going to give those folks an opportunity if they missed the first open enrollment to go ahead and get signed up now to take advantage of this special enrollment period. We’re just really excited that families are going to have that opportunity to get coverage.”

WV Navigator, again, is absolutely free. The organization is grant-funded, so it doesn’t have to charge for its services.

Smith said the nonprofit employs certified health insurance navigators who can help find the best plan for individuals. These navigators help West Virginians avoid buying what are known as “junk insurance plans,” the program director said.

Smith said that’s because if you do a Google search, on your own, for health insurance, roughly seven out of ten of the results will be for junk plans. That is why he recommends two things. First, only visit the official ACA website. Second, contact WV Navigator., the official ACA website

“If you need health coverage for you and your family, it doesn’t hurt to ask and look into it,” Smith said. “You’re under no obligation, you can reach out to us, and we’re going to explain exactly how the program works and make sure that you can get a plan that’s going to be best for you and your family. I just encourage you to reach out to us.”

Smith continued.

“We never like to see families go without health insurance because one car wreck or one unexpected surgery could bankrupt you and your family. And in reality, the majority of West Virginias can get a very affordable plan through the marketplace that’s going to give them coverage and take care of their needs. I hope that people take advantage of this new open enrollment period, and they reach out to us if they need any help.”

To get help from WV Navigator, Smith said to call 304-356-5834. An expert will assess the needs of a customer and schedule an appointment. During that appointment, the expert navigator will get to know the individual even better and work tirelessly to find the right plan.

Again, this service is available to all who want it. However, Smith said he is concerned many who need to take advantage will not.

“A lot of people have been laid off or are used to getting coverage through their job every year, so this may be new to them,” he said. “And what I’m a little bit fearful about is people just rolling the dice and deciding to go without coverage until they get that next job. I hope they take advantage of this program because this is going to be a really good opportunity to make sure they and their families can get coverage.”