The coronavirus pandemic has forced many people to lose their employer-sponsored health coverage, and some who had not purchased a plan may finally be considering it due to the current public health crisis.
Some newly unemployed people are taking advantage of special enrollment periods to sign up for plans offered on the Affordable Care Act's insurance marketplaces, while others find they qualify for Medicaid. Some might have the option to stay on their former employer's plan, even while bearing the full cost themselves.
If you are newly laid off or are looking for coverage, here's what you should know:
ACA special enrollment period
Under the ACA, anyone who experiences a certain "life event" will qualify to purchase a policy during a special enrollment period on the exchanges. Life events include:
Anybody that has experienced one of these events can sign up for new coverage without waiting for the open enrollment period, which occurs near the end of each calendar year.
If you lost your job during COVID-19 layoffs, you must submit certain documents to prove you qualify for special enrollment, such as proof of prior job-based coverage.
Because of the coronavirus, these requirements have been loosened. Specifically, the Trump administration appears to have cut back on pre-approval documentation checks because of the difficulties some people are having getting hold of the required paperwork from their employers.
When you have a qualifying life event, you have 60 days to apply under the ACA special enrollment period. So if you've lost your job, you should move quickly.
Also, if you live in a state that runs its own ACA marketplace, it may have a different special enrollment period due to the pandemic. For example, some marketplaces have already closed their coronavirus special enrolment periods.
Despite the 60-day period for signing up, you can submit an appeal for an extension if you suffered certain hardships during the public health crisis, such as being sick or caring for someone who was ill.
If you have lost a good chunk of your income, you may qualify for tax benefits on the exchange, which can greatly reduce your premiums.
If you have lost your income, you may qualify for Medicaid, which can be accessed at any time of the year. Eligibility is based on income and other qualifying factors, but it will depend on the availability of plans in your state.
Another option is to stay on your former employer's plan through COBRA, but that can often be expensive as employees must pay the full cost of the premium - although some employers are sharing that cost during the pandemic. Additionally, Congress may consider a full or partial subsidy in upcoming legislation.
The deadline to enroll in this has been extended until 60 days after the national COVID-19 emergency ends.