How to get health insurance if you lose your job

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  • Millions of American workers have been laid off as the country continues to battle the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Many have also lost health insurance along with their source of income.
  • If you recently lost your job, you may qualify for COBRA continuation coverage, Medicaid, or a special enrollment period to buy insurance on your state marketplace or the federal marketplace.
  • Read more personal finance coverage.

Millions of Americans have been left jobless after social distancing measures put in place to contain the spread of the coronavirus have forced businesses to downscale, and in some cases, close indefinitely.

For the week ending March 21, claims for unemployment insurance hit an all-time high of 3.3 million.

“Record is not even the right word here,” Martha Gimbel, an economist at Schmidt Futures, told Business Insider’s Carmen Reinicke. “These numbers are literally incredible.”

Not only are scores of people losing their source of income, but many are now left without health insurance during one of the worst health crises modern America has faced.

Here’s how to get health insurance if you lose your job:

1. Apply for COBRA continuation coverage

Named for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985, COBRA allows you to continue receiving the exact same health coverage you’ve been getting from your employer after leaving the company, as long as you’re not covered by another plan elsewhere.

If you have left your job or had your hours reduced for reasons other than “gross misconduct,” you’re eligible to keep your health coverage for up to 18 months. While you’ll retain coverage at group insurance rates, you’ll have to pay both the employer and the employee’s portion, plus an administrative fee. This can drive up the cost of coverage significantly, but it’s worth considering if the alternative is no coverage at all.

Most private sector and state or local government employers with 20 or more employees offer COBRA. Many states have laws similar to COBRA that cover companies with less than 20 employees.

You have 60 days to elect to receive health coverage under COBRA after leaving your employer or having your hours reduced. If your plan also covered your spouse or dependents while you worked at the company, they would be covered under COBRA as well. To elect COBRA, contact the employer’s benefits administrator or the insurance company directly.

Learn more about applying for COBRA »

2. Use the special open enrollment period

Established by the Affordable Care Act, the Health Insurance Marketplace is a resource available to most US citizens and can help narrow down private health insurance coverage options, and find out whether tax breaks or other subsidies are available.

The Marketplace’s open enrollment period runs from November 1, 2020 to December 15, 2020. However, losing job-based coverage, getting married, or having a baby at any point during the year may qualify you for a special enrollment period

Eleven states and Washington, DC, use their own health insurance marketplace and they have already opened up a special enrollment period for workers laid off due to the coronavirus, the New York Times reports. Two trade associations sent a letter to Congress urging that the federal government also open up a one-time special enrollment period that doesn’t require qualification.

Notably, insurance offered through the Marketplace cannot deny any individual coverage, even for pre-existing conditions. According to Policygenius, these plans all minimally cover the 10 essential benefits mandated by the federal government, including emergency services and pregnancy and newborn care, plus any benefits required by your state of residence. Some also include dental coverage.

First you have to fill out an application with your estimated income for the year and information about your spouse and/or dependents (here’s a handy checklist). This will generate a list of the health plans available to you.

When comparing plans, you’ll want to look at premium costs, per individual and per family deductibles, copayments, hospital costs, and coverage details, like whether extra costs are levied to visit out-of-network providers.

To get a sense of how much you could wind up paying in a worst-case scenario, a quick trick is to add up your total annual premium and the maximum out-of-pocket limit of your insurance choices, suggests Business Insider’s healthcare editor Zachary Tracer.

3. Apply for Medicaid, if you qualify

Medicaid is the government’s health insurance program for Americans who are low-income, have children, are pregnant, or are disabled. Depending on how you apply for Medicaid, the requirements to qualify can be complicated, and depend a lot on where you live.

You may qualify for Medicaid if your income is under 138% of the federal poverty level and you live in one of the 37 states that expanded eligibility for Medicaid. The income limit for a four-person household is $35,535 this year in every state except Hawaii and Alaska, which have higher guidelines. These figures are based on modified adjusted gross income.

Other states have different income limits and eligibility criteria. Find out if you qualify for Medicaid, or other income-based subsidies, at HealthCare.gov.

4. Go on your partner or parents’ health insurance plan, if you qualify

If your partner is still working and insured through their employer, you may be eligible to join their plan if you qualify for a special enrollment period (again, losing job-based coverage, getting married, or having a baby at any point during the year may qualify you for a special enrollment period).

Some states require couples to be married to be on the same plan, but an increasing number of private employers are allowing domestic partners to qualify for coverage, according to legal information site Nolo.

If you’re under age 26 and your parents’ health plan covers dependents, you may be able to join their coverage under a special enrollment period as well.

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