As states reinstitute shutdowns in response to the latest spike in coronavirus cases, many businesses have little choice but to furlough or lay off employees.
But with more than 60 million Americans already recently unemployed, and likely uninsured, it’s no surprise that continued economic shutdowns have some ready to panic.
Suddenly losing health coverage, especially amid a health pandemic, is an understandable cause for fear and confusion.
In a recent healthinsurance.com survey, more than half of people said they wouldn’t know what their other options were if they lost their insurance.
But for those newly seeking coverage, all hope is certainly not lost. In fact, there’s several different ways to get covered, depending on your health insurance needs. This includes if you have preexisting conditions or prescription needs, if you're seeking coverage for yourself or your family, and how much you can afford to spend.
If you’ve lost your employer’s health insurance, you will be eligible to buy COBRA, which is the insurance your employer was providing to you, but at the cost your employer was paying. Since COBRA is the same coverage you were already receiving, your deductibles, copays and networks remain the same.
While it can be convenient to stick with the same coverage, the cost of COBRA is typically $650 per month and is available for a maximum of up to 18 months.
As a result, most people decline COBRA coverage and opt for another type of health insurance.
But with almost half of Americans insured by robust employer-sponsored health plans, there’s another way to potentially access coverage. If you are married or living with a significant other, a more affordable alternative to COBRA can be employer-sponsored health insurance through your partner’s plan.
Generally, employers will cover some of the costs of an employee’s significant other, although the monthly premium may be higher than the employee’s cost.
Alternatively, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) allows those who have recently become uninsured to qualify for a special open enrollment period. ACA plans cover pre-existing conditions as well as the ten essential health benefits, including doctor’s office visits, hospitalization, ambulance, prescriptions. ACA plans are generally more affordable than COBRA, and typically cost just under $400 for one person and $1500 for a four person family per month. If you qualify for a subsidy, these plans become even more affordable.
If your budget won’t allow for a COBRA or an ACA plan, you may want to consider a short-term limited duration plan, which typically covers unexpected accidents or illnesses. Since this insurance does not cover preexisting conditions or all 10 essential health benefits of an ACA plan, the monthly premium is much lower, averaging just $100 per month.
Short term limited duration plans are underwritten, so that qualification for the plan requires an applicant to pass medical screening questions. If you have ongoing conditions that require treatment or prescriptions, a short-term limited duration plan may not be a good choice.
Outside of health insurance plans, there are provider services like telemedicine to help lower your medical costs. Telemedicine offers virtual doctor’s office visits where you can speak with a doctor from the safety and comfort of your own home. Doctors can see patients for routine matters like rashes, sinus infections, pink eye, and even mental health concerns. Companies who offer telemedicine visits either charge by the visit or on a monthly basis, and the cost is surprisingly reasonable — some plans start at less than $20 per month.
Lastly, the recent Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) acknowledged the newly unemployed by including a safety net for those that lost health insurance. The CARES Act will cover uninsured coronavirus patients who receive care from hospitals by allowing hospitals to bill the federal government directly.
The coronavirus has brought uncertainty into countless aspects of our lives, whether it’s our jobs, our kids’ schools, or our overall economic health. But when it comes to health coverage, even those who find themselves suddenly uninsured should rest assured knowing they still have options.
Jan Dubauskas is a healthcare expert, enthusiastic insurance pro, attorney and mom serving as vice president of healthinsurance.com.
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