With the COVID-19 virus still unvanquished, this is no time to go without health insurance. Fortunately, a new three-month-long window of opportunity has opened up in Minnesota and elsewhere for those who have lost coverage or thought they couldn't afford it.

The traditional time to sign up for a new health care plan is a short period at end of the year, known as "open enrollment.'' That's when people who have employer-provided coverage pick a plan for the following year.

Those who buy a plan on their own can also shop for a plan at this time, and many use the online marketplaces established by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). In Minnesota, that's MNsure.org, and in many other states, it's Healthcare.gov.

Beginning Feb. 16, Minnesotans still in need of health insurance for the remainder of 2021 can shop once again for a plan on MNsure. The new shopping period ends May 17. The MNsure move comes on the heels of President Joe Biden opening up a similar window to buy coverage on the federally run Healthcare.gov.

Expanding opportunities for coverage during the pandemic is a smart, compassionate move. Anyone can become infected with COVID and potentially require costly hospital care.

The pandemic has also created economic uncertainty. While people who lost their jobs or coverage can generally apply year-round at MNsure for a special enrollment period, the new window reduces the number of hoops to jump through for those who suddenly need coverage or still do.

The ACA's financial assistance, which can instantly discount monthly premiums, is available during this time period for those who qualify. Coverage may be more affordable than you think. Finding a plan also comes with another health benefit — peace of mind.