The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in over 33 million Americans filing for unemployment benefits and there is now an unprecedented 15.5% nationwide unemployment rate. In addition to the loss of income and job security, millions of people are losing or have lost their employer-provided health insurance. With the pandemic far from over, this is a time when everyone needs access to health insurance.
If you have recently lost your job and healthcare coverage, here are ways to purchase affordable health insurance.
HealthCare.gov is the website that provides access to the Marketplace or Exchange that allows you to purchase coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) also known as Obama Care. Sometimes the site is operated by the federal government and other times by your state, depending on where you live.
Traditionally, you can only enroll in health plans only during the open enrollment period in November and December, but the program recognizes that “qualifying life events” can occur outside of this open enrollment period. Qualifying events allow you to have a special enrollment period. Losing healthcare coverage due to the loss of job is a qualifying life event, which means that you can enroll in a plan through the Marketplace during your special enrollment period.
In addition to losing your job, you may qualify for special enrollment if:
• You expect to lose employment-provided coverage within the next 60 days;
• You are furloughed, under specific circumstances; and
• Your COBRA coverage has expired.
If you already are covered under a Marketplace plan and your financial circumstances have changed because of reduced hours, you can also update your application within 30 days because you may be eligible for additional savings.
Depending on your income, you may be eligible for subsidies to lower the premiums on a new insurance policy. These subsidies may also lower the amounts of your copayments, coinsurance and deductible.
There are specific time periods to qualify for the special enrollment exception to the open enrollment period, usually 60 days from loss of coverage. This means that you need to act now to find a policy or you will need to wait until the next open enrollment period to purchase coverage.
The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 (COBRA) health benefit provisions allow people who lose their jobs to continue to pay the premiums for their employer-provided health insurance so they can keep their coverage. You have 60 days from the date you lost your job to enroll in COBRA and your former employer must tell your health insurance plan that you are no longer employed. At this time the health plan provider has 14 days to supply information on retaining coverage. Some employers also provide this information in the health insurance packet you received when you first signed up for your health plan.
If you select to use COBRA coverage, you may be required to pay for the entire amount of the health insurance premium. This includes your current contribution plus whatever your employer has been paying. In other words you are now responsible for the entire monthly premium for the coverage offered by your employer.
Some people find that it is less expensive to purchase the coverage they need through the Marketplace rather than through COBRA. The reason for this is that most employment-based policies cover a wide range of services and you may not need all of them. Selecting a policy through the Marketplace may save you money.
Also, it is important to note that COBRA coverage is only valid for 60 days from the time you lose your job-based benefits. The special enrolment period is also only open for the 60 days that you lose your job. If you choose to purchase COBRA coverage, do not wait until the 60 days are over to attempt to purchase coverage on the Marketplace may no longer qualify for the special enrollment exception.
If you are one of the nearly 30 million Americans who are uninsured, generally you will not be able to purchase coverage through the Marketplace until the next open enrollment period. However, some states have emergency open enrolment periods due to the pandemic. If the Marketplace is operated by the state, it may offer this option. For states with plans managed by the Federal Government, this option is not yet available.
Despite these limitations, there are COVID-19 resources, including free testing, that are available to you. You will need to contact your local health department or visit their website to find a testing site or health center.
These are stressful times and we are here to help you with insurance questions and coverage options. Alliance has served Florida residents for 20 years and we work with the best healthcare providers in the state. We understand the Marketplace and can help you purchase the best health insurance coverage to fit your needs. You aren’t alone and we will help. Simply go online to request a quote or call (866) 771-4715 to speak with one of our experienced agents.
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