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Health Insurance During COVID-19: COBRA, Marketplace or Private Plan?

May 27, 2020 5 min read Ben Gran

Key Takeaways

  • If you lose your job, you don't have to lose your health insurance.
  • In some cases, it may make sense to continue your employer-based coverage with COBRA.
  • Losing your job is also a "qualifying life event" that allows you to choose a new marketplace plan.

 

Millions of Americans have lost their jobs because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The government has implemented new programs for expanded unemployment benefits and other support for laid-off workers, but whether you lose your job because of COVID-19 or for any other reason, you don't have to lose your health insurance. Even after becoming unemployed, you have multiple options for keeping your health insurance benefits or finding a new health insurance plan. This can be done through the marketplace at HealthCare.gov Opens in new windowor with private health insurance.

Here's what you need to know about keeping your health insurance or getting new coverage once you're no longer employed.

 

 

Find out the last day of coverage with your employer

In some cases, your health insurance ends on the day you are no longer employed, but in other cases, your coverage may extend through the end of the month or longer.

During the COVID-19 crisis, the picture is more complicated: Some employers are cutting workers' hours or furloughing workers but are still keeping these people on the company's health insurance plan. If you get furloughed or have your work hours reduced due to COVID-19, your specific health insurance coverage end date might vary greatly depending on your overall job status, even though you qualify for unemployment benefits.

Ask your employer for details about when your health insurance coverage ends depending on your specific situation.

Act quickly to obtain new health insurance

Once you know when your coverage ends, you'll need to decide fairly quickly what to do next. Starting from the date of separation from your job, you have a Special Enrollment Period Opens in new window of 60 days to find new insurance. After those 60 days are up, if you have not found other insurance, you will run the risk of being uninsured, which can be seriously damaging for your finances.

There are several options for obtaining new health insurance. You may want to continue your employer plan's coverage through the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA). You can also find coverage on HealthCare.gov Opens in new window under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or find private health insurance on sites like eHealthInsurance Opens in new window or through a health insurance broker.

 

 

What is COBRA coverage?"

If you like your former job-based health insurance plan, the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) program allows you to keep your current job-based health insurance for up to 18 months from before the day you were terminated, but it will require you to pay the full premium amount yourself. Ask your ex-employer for the exact amount you'll pay if you want to continue your insurance through COBRA.

Even if your COBRA premiums are higher, there are times when it may be wise to continue on your ex-employer's coverage. This may be the case if you've already met your deductible for the year and your expenses are covered at 100%, your former employer's plan has a lower deductible than marketplace or private insurance, or you want to continue to have access to specialist care from an out-of-network doctor or hospital.

 

Look at your HealthCare.gov options

If your COBRA coverage is too expensive, you can evaluate other options under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to see if you can find a better health insurance plan, even if you have preexisting conditions. Start by going to HealthCare.gov Opens in new window and entering your information to see if you qualify for a different plan.

Depending on your state, the number of people in your family and your estimated household income, you might be able to qualify for a lower-cost plan with subsidized premiums or Medicaid. If your income and household size qualify you or your family for Medicaid or the State Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) Opens in new window, you can apply for these programs at any time, all year; there is no Special Enrollment Period for these programs.

 

Consider private health insurance

You can also search for other private health insurance plans that are available online from sites like eHealthInsurance Opens in new window or through a health insurance broker. Be sure to get all the coverage details, including premiums, deductibles, copayments and covered services, so you can make an informed decision about which option makes most financial sense.

Short-term, or temporary, health insurance plans provide almost immediate short-term coverage to fill gaps between jobs, while you're waiting for other coverage to begin or during the interval until the next ACA open enrollment period. These plans are generally budget-friendly and offer a range of deductibles. In addition, in most cases, coverage can begin as quickly as the day after you apply.

Remember, even if you lose your job due to COVID-19 or for any other reason, you can still have affordable health insurance, either by continuing your employer-based health insurance or by getting covered by a new marketplace or private insurance plan.

 

What you can do next

Get the necessary information from your employer and get quotes from HealthCare.gov Opens in new window and a private health insurance broker so you can evaluate your options. Be ready to decide within the 60-day Special Enrollment Period so you don't go without coverage.

Footnotes

 

Ben Gran is a freelance writer based in Des Moines, Iowa. He writes about personal finance, public policy, financial services, technology, and business.

 

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