Lose health insurance

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Unemployed Due to Coronavirus? Here’s How to Get Health Insurance

Unemployed Due to Coronavirus? Here’s How to Get Health Insurance

Getting insured again is top priority
Lose health insurance

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Millions of Americans have found themselves laid off, furloughed or unemployed because of the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. If you’ve recently become unemployed, you are probably facing a whirlwind of questions. How will I support my family? How will I find another job? One of the most pressing questions many people will face is what to do if you lose your health insurance. Here are the steps to take to get you and your family back on a plan.

Get back on a plan

Get back on a plan

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People are doing what they can to cut back costs and save money during the coronavirus pandemic. However, a global health crisis is not the time to opt out of having health insurance whatsoever. If you lost health insurance through your job, one of the first steps you should take after your unexpected unemployment is to get enrolled in a new health insurance plan ASAP.

Ask for help

Ask for help

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Navigating health insurance plans, rules, jargon and bureaucracy can be confusing. If you’ve recently been laid off, reach out to your company’s human resources department for help. They might be able to walk you through the paperwork you’ll need as well as what to look for to find a plan similar to what you previously had. You could also try contacting your state’s or the federal health insurance marketplace by phone or email. You might have to sit on hold to talk to someone, but getting clear directions could save you much more time in the long run.

Find other resources

Find other resources

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If you’re still overwhelmed, there are other resources available. Look online for nonprofits in your state or local area with programs or staff that help people enroll in health insurance. Many hospitals and health centers employ financial counselors whose jobs are to get people enrolled as well. These staff are often extremely well versed in the intricacies of insurance rules and options.

You have 60 days

You have 60 days

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If you've lost health insurance because you were laid off or furloughed from a job, you have 60 days in your Special Enrollment Period to enroll in a new insurance plan, whether that’s through the federal exchanges at Healthcare.gov or your state’s insurance exchange. Other situations that would qualify you for special enrollment include getting married, having a baby or a death in the family that causes you to lose your insurance.

Where to shop

Where to shop

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The federally run health care exchanges on Healthcare.gov were created through the Affordable Care Act, nicknamed “Obamacare.” The open enrollment period for anyone to freely shop on these exchanges, known as the Health Insurance Marketplace, has already passed for 2020, and the federal government has not reopened the enrollment period despite the current health crisis. However, you are able to shop after a qualifying event if you prove loss of coverage. Washington, D.C. and 12 other states operate their own marketplaces where you can shop as well.

Verify your loss of coverage

Verify your loss of coverage

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Before you can shop for a new insurance plan on the HealthCare.gov Marketplace, you should have proof of loss of coverage. You will be asked to provide documents to confirm the events that make you eligible for a Special Enrollment Period. Open enrollment for insurance plans ended Dec. 15, 2019, and won’t open again until Nov. 1, 2020. However, loss of job-based coverage is just one qualifying event that gives you a special window to enroll in a new insurance plan.

Be wary of short-term health plans

Be wary of short-term health plans

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Short-term health insurance, also called temporary health insurance or term health insurance, are temporary plans you can often enroll in on a monthly basis up to one year. While these plans are useful in filling coverage gaps and can take effect the day after your application is received, they often have significantly higher deductibles, don’t provide coverage for preexisting conditions and are not required to comply with Affordable Care Act guidelines.

Navigate the Marketplace

Navigate the Marketplace

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When comparing plans and shopping on Healthcare.gov for insurance, there are four categories of plans: Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum. These tiers are based on cost and do not indicate quality of care. There are also four plan and network types: HMO, PPO, POS and EPO. The Marketplace also provides estimated costs for your monthly payment to your insurance company, your "premium,” and the out-of-pocket costs you would pay when you receive care, your “deductible.”

Use a Marketplace plan as a stopgap

Use a Marketplace plan as a stopgap

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Most people don’t plan to be unemployed for a significant stretch of time. Even if you’re actively interviewing for new jobs or even get a job offer, there might be a waiting period before you start and can enroll in a new job-based plan. To protect yourself in the interim, you can buy a Marketplace plan to provide coverage for you and your family, which you can end any time without penalty.

Check with your state government

Check with your state government

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Several state-run insurance exchanges have enacted their own unique SEPs for residents in response to COVID-19. These allow people to opt into a plan if they were previously insured or if they recently lost coverage or income. Along with Washington, D.C., these states include California, Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New York, Rhode Island, Washington and Vermont.

Watch out for scams

Watch out for scams

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With all the uncertainty in the world, scammers are unfortunately trying to manipulate and take advantage of people. Be wary of any phishing emails or phone calls purportedly from government or insurance agencies. Make sure you are always on the official Healthcare.gov site when shopping for insurance as there are bogus copycat sites out there.

Switch to a partner’s plan

Switch to a partner’s plan

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Besides buying a new plan outright, you might have other options for coverage. If you previously received health insurance under your own employer and have lost your coverage, this is a life event that qualifies you for a Special Enrollment Period should you want to join your spouse's or partner’s plan. Companies are generally required to offer employees or their family members an opportunity to enroll into their program during this special time.

Get on your parent’s plan

Get on your parent’s plan

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As part of the Affordable Care Act, adult children up to age 26 are eligible for coverage under a parent's plan. Young adults 25 and under who have lost their job-based health insurance may be added back onto their parent’s plan during a Special Enrollment Period. Your parents should check with their insurance provider or their employer’s benefits department for details.

Compare your options to COBRA

Compare your options to COBRA

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Another option for health insurance after losing your job is a program called the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, or COBRA. COBRA allows a person to temporarily keep their employer-sponsored health care plan for up to 18 months. However, COBRA continuation coverage is often more expensive because you have to pay the entire cost of the monthly premium rather than sharing the cost with your employer.

Qualifying for Medicaid

Qualifying for Medicaid

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If you've had a large decrease in monthly income or are recently unemployed, it’s worth checking if you are eligible for Medicaid, a program that provides free or low-cost care for some low-income people, families and children, pregnant women, the elderly and people with disabilities. More than 30 states have expanded their Medicaid programs to cover all people with household incomes below a certain level. If your household income is below 133% of the federal poverty level, you automatically qualify in these states.

Qualifying for Medicare Part B

Qualifying for Medicare Part B

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If you are 65 or over and still working, you might have delayed signing up for Medicare Part B because you were still covered by your employer’s plan. If you’ve since lost your employer coverage, you are eligible to enroll in Medicare Part B. You have eight months to enroll in Medicare once you stop working or your employer coverage ends.

Delay medical expenses until your new plan starts

Delay medical expenses until your new plan starts

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If you opt into a new Marketplace plan, it will take effect the first day of the month after you enroll or your job-based insurance ends. So if you select a Marketplace plan by March 31, coverage will begin June 1. If you have any doctors appointments, prescriptions to refill or other medical expenses that will come up before your new coverage begins, delay them if possible.

If you never had insurance in the first place

If you never had insurance in the first place

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If you are one of the about 28 million Americans who never had insurance in the first place, now is the time to change that. Some people who are eligible for coverage under Medicaid might not realize that they qualify because of their income. While Medicaid eligibility for adults remains limited in some states, it’s worth applying through your state's Medicaid website or HealthCare.gov to see if you qualify. If you don't qualify for Medicaid, you might be able to get health insurance through Healthcare.gov at a subsidized rate.

Know the potential costs you face

Know the potential costs you face

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You might be young, fit and self-quarantining now, making it hard for you to motivate yourself to pay up for health insurance. But should something happen, the costs without insurance could be astronomical. For example, right now, many insurers, as well as Medicare and Medicaid, are waiving co-pays, deductibles and out-of-pocket costs for testing and treatment of COVID-19. However, without insurance, patients with COVID-19 requiring an inpatient hospital stay would pay an average of $73,300, according to a report by FAIR Health.

Don’t give up

Don’t give up

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This is a stressful and uncertain time for millions and millions of Americans. It might be tempting to give up instead of slogging through all the paperwork and bureaucracy. Take breathers and decompress if you need to, but don’t walk away entirely. Remember, this is to protect your health and that of people you love as well as your financial future. After all, medical debt is one of the main causes of bankruptcy. If you’ve recently lost your job during the coronavirus pandemic, beyond getting new health insurance, here are the other must-take steps you should follow.

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