A Guide to Medical Insurance During COVID

Rohan Mathew

Updated on:

Nearly 40 million Americans lost their jobs due to the COVID pandemic. While the personal financial damage is staggering enough, these job losses also reveal a fundamental flaw with the state of American healthcare: These 40 million Americans just lost their employer healthcare coverage when they need it most.

Are you one of them? With COVID still sweeping across the country, it’s not a wise move to go without medical insurance. But without an employer, can you even find an insurance program that won’t leave you destitute?

Well, you may have more options than you think. Follow our guide to maintain medical insurance during the COVID pandemic.

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Keep Your Insurance With COBRA

So long as your employer had at least 20 employees, you should be eligible for COBRA. What is COBRA health insurance? Basically, it’s the same health insurance plan you have now — but you’ll be paying more to keep it.

With COBRA, you’ll retain access to the medical insurance plan you received through your former employer. However, the employer will no longer pay for any of the related expenses. It’s not unusual to see premiums double when you make the switch to COBRA.

If you’re eligible, your insurance provider should inform you through the mail within 60 days. That’s how long you’ll have to decide whether or not you’ll take advantage of the program.

The length of COBRA coverage varies, but it lasts between a year-and-a-half to three years. That’s plenty of time to find a new employer who offers a new medical insurance plan.

While convenient, COBRA is just about the least affordable insurance option out there. And that could be a real problem for the recently unemployed.

Use the ACA Marketplace

Instead of COBRA, you can turn to the insurance marketplace, whether through your state or at the federal level. Normally, the enrollment period takes place at the end of the year. But losing your job counts as a qualifying special enrollment opportunity so long as you choose a plan within 60 days.

Any income, such as unemployment benefits, will impact your federal and state subsidies. This can make it difficult to find a  comprehensive plan that works with your current budget. Still, it’s a good idea to shop around the marketplace to see what it may cost you, even if you’re considering COBRA.

Qualify for Medicaid

If your household is no longer receiving income of any kind, you may qualify for Medicaid. Medicaid is a medical insurance program open to low-income Americans. Since qualification looks at monthly income rather than annual income, there’s a good chance you’ll qualify once unemployed.

In most states, Medicaid comes with no premiums at all. That means it’s essentially free. There are no special enrollment periods or qualifying situations as Medicaid applications are always open.

For those who have children in need of health coverage, you could turn to the children’s health insurance program, also known as CHIP. In some ways, CHIP is the bridge between Medicaid and Marketplace insurance. You’re likely to qualify for CHIP even if you earn too much monthly income for Medicaid.

CHIP includes comprehensive medical coverage for children, which can help you supplement a Marketplace plan and save money in the longterm.

Find Private Insurance

Grabbing a plan through the health insurance marketplace will almost always be cheaper than finding private insurance elsewhere. However, if you’re making too much money you may not qualify. Also, the health insurance marketplace may not always have enough coverage to satisfy your requirements.

In which case, you have the option of buying a private health insurance plan through an insurance company or a broker. The average premiums will depend on your plan, but they’ll likely cost as much as COBRA or be slightly cheaper.

If you’re a member of certain organizations, you may have access to group health insurance plans. These are a more affordable alternative to finding your own private insurance. In some situations, they may even provide better coverage than marketplace plans, and at a lower price point.

Avoid Short-Term Health Insurance Plans

During your search for medical insurance, you may come along short-term plans. These often market themselves as a gap closer while you’re between jobs. Prices vary, but these may appear more affordable than some marketplace plans.

However, you should know that short-term plans do not have to abide by the Affordable Care Act. In short, that means they don’t have to offer the same types of universal coverage that you’ll find in traditional insurance plans. If you suffer an expensive medical emergency, your short-term health insurance plan may not cover the cost.

It’s best to avoid these plans whenever possible. If you are really considering this option, read the fine print and understand what’s covered — and what isn’t.

Consider Urgent Care

Even if you’re unemployed, there are plenty of options to find medical insurance. If you don’t qualify for Medicaid and can’t afford premiums otherwise, you may consider going without coverage.

That’s a calculated risk. If you end up in this situation, take advantage of urgent care centers in case an emergency occurs. These clinics provide essential services for minor medical emergencies, such as a broken bone, and cost far less than a visit to the ER.

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You Need Medical Insurance

Medical insurance is a necessity even while you’re unemployed. And with the country currently facing a national pandemic, maintaining an insurance plan could be the difference between life and death.

From COBRA, to the ACA Marketplace, to Medicaid, there’s a medical insurance plan out there that fits your budget. Don’t let unemployment put your health and savings at risk.

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