Biden Pushes for Better Access to Health Insurance

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Many people have lost their health coverage during the pandemic -- and that's a dangerous thing.

Millions of Americans have lost their jobs in the course of the coronavirus pandemic. But losing a job doesn't only mean losing a paycheck. For many, it means losing health benefits.

What's more, many people who don't get health coverage through work routinely opt to forgo insurance due to its cost. But now, President Joe Biden wants to make it easier for Americans to get access to healthcare. To this end, he signed an executive order on Jan. 28 calling for the Department of Health and Human Services to reopen enrollment on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) exchange between Feb. 15 and May 15.

Normally, ACA open enrollment begins on Nov. 1 and ends on Dec. 15. Those who don't sign up during that period become ineligible for coverage for the following year unless they qualify for a special enrollment period. By reopening the healthcare exchange, it's estimated that 15 million uninsured Americans could benefit by getting a chance to sign up for coverage, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

A necessity at a time like this

Going without health insurance is dangerous even in the best of times. But right now, it's an especially unsafe choice given the way the coronavirus outbreak is raging.

Of course, many people don't have health coverage because of the cost. (It may be called the Affordable Care Act, but a lot of marketplace plans are anything but cheap.) But the Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that nearly 9 million uninsured Americans may be entitled to free or subsidized coverage. Single tax filers earning up to about $51,000 and families of four earning up to about $104,800 are eligible for subsidies. Not only will the healthcare exchange open back up shortly, but the Biden administration has pledged to conduct a widespread outreach effort to make more people aware that they can sign up for coverage.

What to do if you lose your health coverage

If you rely on your employer for health insurance and you're laid off, you have a few options. First, you'll be eligible to enroll in an ACA health plan within 60 days of the day you lose your coverage under the special enrollment period provision. (You'll also qualify for a special enrollment period if you experience a life change, like a marriage, divorce, or birth of a child.)

You can also retain your employer plan for up to 18 months through a program called COBRA, but there's a catch -- you'll need to pay the full cost of your insurance premiums, and that could be prohibitively expensive. Remember, the amount of money that's taken out of your paychecks for health insurance may represent just a fraction of the total monthly cost of your plan, and while Biden has said he'll push to subsidize COBRA coverage, so far, that's not on the table.

Either way, if you're without health insurance right now, it pays to explore your options. If you don't have coverage and then get stuck with a hefty medical bill, you could be forced to deplete your savings or, worse yet, rack up expensive debt. And that's a risk not worth taking.

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