At our inception 20 years ago, we chose to be different. Unlike other news organizations, we made the decision to provide in-depth, regional reporting free to anyone who wanted access to it. We don’t plan to change that model. Support from our readers will help us maintain and strengthen the editorial independence that is crucial to our mission to help make Western North Carolina a better place to call home. If you are able, please support The Smoky Mountain News.

The Smoky Mountain News is a wholly private corporation. Reader contributions support the journalistic mission of SMN to remain independent. Your support of SMN does not constitute a charitable donation. If you have a question about contributing to SMN, please contact us.

Enrollment for ACA coverage open Feb. 15 through May 15

People have a new opportunity to enroll in health insurance for 2021 on, but only for a limited time.

This new COVID-19 Special Enrollment period starts on Feb. 15 and ends on May 15. Pisgah Legal Services, Legal Aid and Mountain Projects all have health care navigators on staff and are once again offering free assistance helping people review their options and sign up for ACA health insurance.

With job losses continuing to mount amid the COVID-19 resurgence, and millions of people having lost their job-based health insurance since the start of this public health and economic crisis, the Biden Administration has opened up to give people who need health insurance a new opportunity to get covered, but they must act quickly. 

“More than 535,000 North Carolinians enrolled in a health insurance plan during the last Open Enrollment period,” said Shannon Cornelius, Pisgah Legal’s Health Justice Program Director. “This is a new chance for people to sign up, and anyone who needs health insurance should visit today, or contact Pisgah Legal Services if you need assistance. Don’t delay.”

Health insurance is more affordable than many people think. In North Carolina, 83 percent of current marketplace consumers had plans available for 2021 that cost less than $50 per month, after financial help. Nine out of 10 marketplace enrollees in North Carolina received financial help that lowered their monthly health insurance premiums last year. In addition, 57 percent of enrollees also qualified for lower out-of-pocket costs for health care services.

“Many people can find good deals on and receive financial assistance to help lower their monthly health insurance costs,” said Plummer. “We help guide our clients through that process,” said Jan Plummer, certified application counselor program coordinator with Mountain Projects.

Consumers enrolling in a plan on are guaranteed to receive comprehensive coverage, with no pre-existing condition exclusions or markups. All plans cover essential benefits, including doctor and hospital visits, prescription drugs, mental health treatment, and maternity care. In addition, consumers receive free preventive care services, such as immunizations and health screenings. Testing and treatment of COVID-19 are considered essential health benefits and are covered by all plans.

Consumers should avoid insurance plans offered outside of that seem too good to be true. “Junk insurance” products and short-term limited duration plans pose huge financial risks to consumers. These products can refuse to pay for care for pre-existing conditions, charge consumers more based on their gender, and impose annual coverage limits.

“ is the only website where North Carolina consumers are guaranteed to get comprehensive coverage,” said Cornelius.

Jim Barrett, executive director of Pisgah Legal Services, said a navigator can help people find the best plan for them and also explain how the federal subsidies work. 

“”It’s terribly complicated the way the subsidy works — it’s on a sliding scale so you have to anticipate your income to determine how much you’ll pay for your premium,” he said. “And you have to be above the poverty line to qualify because North Carolina didn’t expand Medicaid so we have this Medicaid gap.”

Make an appointment at or call 828.210.3404.

Make an appointment with Mountain Projects by calling 828.452.1447 or visit to find your local contact. 

Make an appointment with Legal Aid at 855.733.3711 or visit

Go to top