Lost your job? You can still get health coverage on the Marketplace.
Trevor Croley, Croley Insurance and Financial
The COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented anxiety and worry over the threat of contracting the virus, but it has also ushered in a fresh wave of concern for many Americans who find themselves fired or laid off and in need of essential health insurance benefits.
If you lost your employer-based health coverage, the good news is you now qualify for coverage under the “Special Enrollment Period” on the Marketplace through Healthcare.gov, and you will not have to wait until the annual enrollment period to get insurance, which typically begins November 1. You have 60 days from the day you lost coverage to enroll in an Affordable Care Act (ACA) plan. Keep in mind, job loss through any mode (resignation, lay-off or termination) is a life event that qualifies you to seek coverage through the Marketplace via Healthcare.gov. In addition, you may also qualify for free or low-cost coverage through Medicaid.
According to Healthcare.gov, it’s your household size and income, not your employment status, which determines what health coverage you’re eligible for and how much financial assistance you’ll receive. Your unemployment compensation counts as income, and you will need to report it on your application.
How do I enroll or find out if I’m eligible for a Marketplace plan?
Generally, a local professional can sit down with you and assist in guiding you through the enrollment process, or you can go directly to Healthcare.gov. When you complete the Marketplace application, you will learn more about your plan options, prices, and if you qualify for premium tax credits to save on deductibles, co-payments, etc.
For the application, in addition to Social Security numbers and dates of births, you will need to provide
- A letter from your previous employer or the insurance company showing the date coverage was canceled and the names of those covered; and
- Your household size and estimated income.
Once enrolled, you may be asked by the federal government to submit additional information on wages or immigration status.
What about COBRA?
COBRA is certainly an option for people who were considered a full-time employee, but now find themselves unemployed due to termination, a lay-off, or resignation. However, the most important thing to consider is that if you choose COBRA, you negate the Marketplace coverage and you must wait until the annual open enrollment period to acquire coverage through Healthcare.gov.
If a group cancels its insurance coverage entirely, as some businesses – particularly restaurants – have been forced to do during this economic downturn, COBRA benefits will not be offered to those employees. An ACA plan is typically the best option for affordable health coverage that provides the essential benefits during this particularly worrisome time of treating or mitigating the spread of COVID-19.
Can I get a short-term plan?
For those that do not opt for a Marketplace plan, another possibility is purchasing a short-term plan, which can provide coverage from 1-12 months. Depending on your health and age, these plans can offer cost savings and get you covered quickly if your unemployment phase is only temporary. The important thing to keep in mind with short term plans is that they are medically underwritten. This means that pre-existing conditions, maternity, and mental health will most likely not be covered. Those applying must be approved after answering health questions.
If there is any positive news to emerge from this health crisis, it is that you do have options available when it comes to getting health insurance. In times like these, it’s hard to imagine being without coverage.