Millions of Americans have lost their jobs in recent weeks due to the impact of COVID-19, which has shut down businesses across the world. If you're one of them, the loss of your job may mean you must make an important decision about your health insurance coverage.
You don't want to be without insurance as a pandemic sweeps the United States. Here are three options to make sure you stay covered.
1. COBRA coverage
Under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA), you're entitled to keep employer-provided health insurance that was in effect when you were let go or voluntarily chose to leave your job.
COBRA typically lasts for 18 months, although you can maintain coverage for longer under certain circumstances, such as if you have a covered disability.
While keeping your employer coverage is attractive because you won't have to change doctors or worry about searching for a plan, your employer will likely stop subsidizing premiums if they were doing so before you got laid off. This means your insurance can become far more expensive, and covering 100% of the costs may not be possible when you're trying to get by on unemployment.
Still, if it's very important that you have the same coverage as before, you generally have 60 days to elect COBRA coverage for yourself and your dependents.
2. Obamacare policies
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) established marketplaces to allow you to buy health insurance on the individual market. While normally you have to buy a policy during open enrollment, loss of your employer-provided insurance coverage entitles you to a special enrollment period.
That means that within 60 days of losing your policy, you can sign up for a new one at Healthcare.gov or your state's insurance marketplace.
One huge benefit of buying an Obamacare policy is that you are entitled to subsidies that cap premiums at a certain percentage of income (the amount depends on how much you earn). If your household income is lower due to your unemployment, a policy may be very inexpensive.
Medicaid is insurance provided by the government. The Affordable Care Act provided for expanded Medicaid so more people could qualify, but not every state took advantage of the opportunity. So depending upon where you live, you may qualify for benefits with income up to 133% of the federal poverty level. The Health and Human Services website will help you determine whether you can get benefits.
Medicaid costs are determined by income, but many people pay little or nothing for care with this coverage. You can sign up for yourself and your dependents by contacting your state's Medicaid agency or by completing an application at your state's health insurance marketplace that shows if you have income low enough to qualify.
Don't leave your family uncovered
There's a lot to deal with when you lose your job, but securing health insurance needs to be at the top of your list. If one of these three options makes sense for you, sign up for a policy so you don't have a gap in coverage during this public health crisis.