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Health Insurance Options Exist for the Newly Unemployed

Special enrollment periods for Obamacare plans and expanded Medicaid coverage will help people who are suddenly out of work because of the coronavirus pandemic.

While the White House will not reopen the federal health care exchanges, many unemployed folks will still be able to sign up for an Obamacare plan, including the millions of workers who have lost employer-provided coverage so far because of the coronavirus crisis. Losing your job is a qualifying life event that allows you to get coverage via the federal marketplace outside the normal open enrollment period. To do so, you must apply within 60 days of losing access to your employer-based insurance.

Eleven of the states with their own health-insurance exchanges, plus the District of Columbia, will offer special enrollment periods, allowing anyone who is eligible under the Affordable Care Act rules to sign up. Those states are California, Connecticut, Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. Idaho is the only state with its own exchange that will not be holding a special enrollment period.

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In addition, 36 states and the District of Columbia have expanded Medicaid coverage so that adults with income up to 138% of the federal poverty level can qualify. Note that unemployment benefits count as income under Medicaid rules, but the expanded benefits included as part of recent legislation to address the coronavirus outbreak will not affect eligibility.

Uncle Sam will also pay health care providers to treat uninsured individuals for COVID-19, using money from two recent coronavirus aid packages. To be eligible for the funds, health care providers are not allowed to balance-bill their patients.

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