The double whammy of losing a job and health insurance is hitting millions of Americans during the coronavirus pandemic. Health insurance coverage is often tied to a job, so having one without the other is unusual. Finding a job is difficult, but it doesn’t mean you have to go without health insurance. Here are five ways to get health insurance, though you might not be eligible for all of them depending on your income, state you live in and if you had coverage recently. Continue Employer’s Coverage This is the most expensive option, but it’s the easiest. If you lost your job and had health insurance through your employer, a federal law called COBRA requires employers to allow former employees to continue their health coverage for up to 18 months after losing their jobs. Former employees can keep the same coverage and provider network. Expenses already paid toward the deductible this year will still count. The premiums, however, will increase significantly. Instead of just paying your cost as an employee, you’ll also pay the employer’s share of the cost, plus up to 2% in administrative costs. Companies pay around 75% of the premiums for employees, meaning your costs will now triple. The total cost of coverage averaged $7,188 in 2019 for single coverage, of which the average employee paid $1,242, according to an employer health benefits survey. Under COBRA, that entire $7,188 would be paid by the former worker. For family coverage, the average worker contributed $6,015 in 2019, but the full cost averaged $20,576, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation survey. Since the coronavirus outbreak, the 60-day deadline to choose COBRA after losing a job has been extended to 60 days after the announced end of Covid-19 as a national emergency, whenever that happens. State Insurance Marketplaces A cheaper option than COBRA is to buy an individual health insurance policy through your state’s marketplace or HealthCare.gov when open enrollment starts in the fall, usually from Nov. 1 to Dec. 15. The enrollment period can be moved up if you lost your job and your employer’s health coverage. You can have up to 60 days after losing employer coverage to buy a policy through the marketplace. Subsidies are offered to families that meet certain income requirements to help them pay their new premiums. In 2020, the qualifications are:
Single with annual income less than $49,96
Couples with household income less than $67,640
Family of four with income less than $103,000
If you’ve lost your job and are unsure what your total income will be for the year, you can estimate it to see if you qualify for a subsidy. If you end the year earning more than expected, you may have to pay back some of the subsidy when you file your income tax return next spring. Or you could get back extra money if you overestimate your income. A health insurance marketplace calculator set up by the Kaiser Family Foundation can give you an estimate of your premiums after the subsidy. With a subsidy, the premiums may be a lot cheaper than through COBRA. However, you may also have to switch to a different provider network, pay higher out-of-pocket costs, and have different coverage than you previously had. A new deductible period will also start. What To Do If You Didn’t Have Employer Coverage If you didn’t have health care coverage through your employer, but are seeking a policy now and are unemployed, you still buy a policy through your state’s health insurance marketplace. Federal law doesn’t allow a 60-day window to enroll after losing a job, so you’ll need to follow your state’s open enrollment deadline. Some states are temporarily reopening enrollment during the pandemic, so check with your state for details. If you’ve moved, had a death in the family or experienced some other type of life-changing event, you may qualify for a special enrollment period and open a 60-day window after losing your job. Join Your Spouse’s Plan As in many things in life, you can look to your spouse for help with medical care. If they’re still employed and have coverage through their employer, you can join their policy as a dependent after you’ve lost your job and health insurance. The key here is to find out how much higher the premiums will be. The family coverage should be cheaper than getting a policy on your own elsewhere, but it’s worthwhile to do the math. Medicaid And Medicare You may qualify for Medicaid, depending on your monthly income. Medicaid enrollment is open year-round. An online screening tool at healthcare.gov can show you if you qualify based on your income, state and household size. Each state has a Medicaid website to apply online. If you’re near age 65 you can sign up for Medicare three months before to three months after the month you turn 65. Go to the Social Security website to sign up for this health care option, though you don’t have to sign up for Social Security benefits to get Medicare. If you didn’t sign up for Part B at 65 because you were working, you have eight months after leaving your job and losing that coverage to add Medicare Part B without a late-enrollment penalty. Online enrollment isn’t allowed for Part B; you’ll have to visit your local Social Security office or mail in the forms proving you had employer coverage.