Did you get health insurance through your work? Recently lost your job? We have some good news: there are a number of resources in place to ensure you can care for your health during this uncertain time.
Unemployment insurance, AKA unemployment benefits, has been around for decades. It helps those who were involuntarily let go from their job to receive a small amount weekly while searching for a new job. All states follow the same guidelines established by federal law. It is important to note that each state administers a separate unemployment insurance program. This means that you’ll need to find your state’s unemployment insurance office by visiting the Department of Labor’s website.
Thanks to the Family First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act as aforementioned, and the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) Act, contract/freelance and gig working individuals can now apply for unemployment insurance. Additionally, they are eligible for extended relief as well as an increased amount of monetary relief.
Many employers that offer group health insurance are required to offer you something called COBRA continuation coverage if you had employer-sponsored health insurance and lost it due to job loss, or your hours have been so severely cut that you are no longer qualified for the employer health insurance. Your employer must provide notice if you have the COBRA option. From there, you have 60 days to elect it as your insurance of choice.
COBRA is basically the same insurance you would have had prior to being let go. The exception here is that in this case, you pay for 100% of your premium. That might give you sticker shock… which is fair. But yes! Your insurance really costs that much! You might only want to elect COBRA if you absolutely need to keep the same level of insurance you currently have. For instance, if you have a chronic condition that requires frequent medical expenses which would be higher on difference coverage. But luckily there are now other options besides COBRA that may be better even in that case.
Purchase Insurance from Healthcare.gov
Whether you get your insurance through an employer or on your own, you usually choose it near the end of the calendar year. This period is known as “open enrollment.” Luckily, if you have lost your employer-based coverage during another time of the year, you have a special period to enroll in new health insurance through healthcare.gov or through a state-based health insurance marketplace (you can see which one your state uses at healthcare.gov).
Just as you have 60 days to elect COBRA coverage, you have 60 days after losing your employer-based coverage to decide if you want to enroll in an Affordable Care Act (AKA ACA or Obamacare) health plan. The big benefit of this option, especially compared to COBRA, is that you can become eligible for subsidies to help pay for your insurance, based on your income, which can mean HUGE savings over COBRA coverage. If you just lost your job, your reduced income will almost certainly mean you qualify. Check out this subsidy calculator by the Kaiser Family Foundation which lets you see what you might pay in premiums for those plans.
Unfortunately, if you either didn’t have employer-based coverage or had a different kind of non-COBRA-eligible coverage, it’s a bit more complicated. Several states have instituted a Special Enrollment Period (SEP) for folks who’ve been impacted by the pandemic, allowing them to obtain health insurance. Unfortunately, President Trump hasn’t extended that SEP to the states that use healthcare.gov…yet.
If even after adding unemployment insurance, your income has fallen below a certain threshold, you may qualify for Medicaid. Like unemployment insurance, this is a federally mandated, but state-administered safety-net program helping to provide low-income families with health insurance coverage. Qualifications are based on monthly income, family size, disability status, and other factors. Medicaid programs vary from state to state, and many go by other names, like “Medical Assistance” or “Medi-Cal.” But no matter what it’s called, Medicaid enrollment takes place year-round.
To learn more about Medicaid coverage and whether or not you qualify, visit Healthcare.gov.
If you’ve been putting money away in your health savings account (HSA), well done! For now, you might want to consider spending those HSA dollars on qualified medical expenses and saving your regular checking account.
Likewise, if you paid out-of-pocket for medical expenses in the past, and you still have the receipts, now’s the time to dig ‘em up. You can easily reimburse yourself for HSA-eligible expenses right from within the Starship app.
Job loss, a sudden lack of health insurance, and the rest of the uncertainties surrounding COVID-19… it all feels like so much. Rest assured, you’re not alone, and we’ll be here… either to provide you with some good news, or means to get around the bad. We’re in it together.