COVID-19 has been ravaging the U.S. economy, quickly driving millions of workers into unemployment. Not only are Americans losing wages, but they're also losing their healthcare coverage at the worst possible time. If that's happened to you, here are some options to look at.
1. Try to get on your spouse's plan
If you're married, you may be eligible to jump onto your spouse's health insurance plan, which could end up being your most cost-effective option. Have your spouse talk to the human resources or benefits department to discuss that possibility and see what it will cost to have you added on.
2. Sign up for COBRA
COBRA (short for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act) allows you to retain your employer health coverage for up to 18 months. The benefit of COBRA is continuity; you'll keep the same health plan you're used to and you won't have to worry about switching doctors or finding new providers. Also, your co-pays and deductibles will stay the same, thereby eliminating some unpleasant financial surprises. The drawback, however, is that you'll need to pay your entire monthly health insurance premiums yourself. If your employer was previously subsidizing those premiums, you may be shocked at what your total monthly costs look like.
3. See if Medicaid is an option
Qualifying for Medicaid isn't easy. You need to be a very low-income household to get on it, and eligibility rules vary from state to state. But if you're unemployed and have no household income, it pays to see if you qualify.
4. Buy your own plan on the health insurance marketplace
The Affordable Care Act introduced an online health insurance marketplace that allows you to buy your own private plan. You're generally entitled to apply for a new plan if you lose your existing health coverage, even though the annual open-enrollment period to sign up for marketplace plans has passed.
But don't be shocked if your out-of-pocket costs are anything but "affordable" with a marketplace plan. Many are quite expensive, and the lower your monthly premiums, the higher your deductibles are likely to be. That said, you may qualify for a subsidy if your income is low enough.
The idea of paying for healthcare, and finding a new plan, may seem overwhelming. But now's not the time to go without health coverage. If you get hurt or sick (with COVID-19 or any other ailment), having insurance could spare you some catastrophic bills, so make an effort to line up a new health plan quickly.
One final thing: If you've been laid off, whether because the business you work for is shutting down temporarily or it needs to scale back its staff, make sure to ask your employer when your last day of health coverage is, so you understand exactly what timeline you're looking at. Having that information will help ensure that you don't face a dangerous gap in coverage.