What to Do If You Lose Your Health Insurance

Any one of us may need lifesaving medical care at any time. Before COVID-19 emerged, more than 27 million Americans lacked health insurance. The uninsured population mostly lived in low-income households where at least one person was working, and almost half of those who were uninsured cited the high cost of coverage as the reason. They may have been eligible for assistance under the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or “Obamacare”), but they may not have known that.

Losing Health Insurance Due to the Pandemic

The pandemic has upped the ante. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), an additional 27 million Americans have lost their health insurance, doubling the number of people in this country with no health insurance.

Although unemployment figures have become politicized, the New York Times has calculated that 27 percent of the workforce is unemployed due to the pandemic. According to Fortune, more than 40 million Americans have filed an unemployment claim since March due to the pandemic.

When a person loses their job, most will also lose their health insurance. KFF estimates that, from March 1 through May 2, nearly 78 million people lived in a family that suffered a job loss. Of that number, 61 percent had been covered by health insurance that was tied to their jobs. When they lost their jobs, or their hours were cut back, many of them also lost their health insurance.

Too many of these people have serious medical problems, including chronic pain or addictions. Losing their health insurance can create devastation for them.

Continuing Your Health Insurance Coverage

As NPR says, finding new health insurance can be complicated. And, these days, there are so many stressors — including, for some, sickness, fear of becoming ill, unemployment, quarantining, sheltering at home — that working through options for obtaining health insurance can be even more difficult.

In some cases, employers are continuing to provide health insurance for their furloughed employees. Some have provided their employees with the information they need to apply for Continuation of Health Coverage (COBRA) which, at least, may allow people to continue their health insurance for up to 18 months if they are able to pay for it. The cost will be the total premium — which includes your contribution as well as the amount that your employer formerly paid — plus a 2 percent administration fee. That amounts to more money than most unemployed people can afford.

In other cases, employees have been left entirely on their own to figure out how they can maintain their health insurance coverage. While this may be a difficult time to figure out the complicated health insurance system, it is still worth taking the time to work through your options.

Medicaid, CHIP, and Other Healthcare Insurance Options

Depending on their circumstances, some people may be eligible for Medicaid which “provides free or low-cost health coverage to some low-income people, families and children, pregnant women, the elderly, and people with disabilities” or Children’s Health Insurance Programs (CHIP).

Medicaid provides affordable health insurance coverage for 1 out of 5 Americans. The first step to take if you’ve lost your health insurance is to find out whether you meet the eligibility requirements for your state’s Medicaid program.

If you do qualify for Medicaid or CHIP, you will probably buy your health insurance through a private managed care plan. Offerings vary by state; find out what’s available to you. Even if you do not meet the eligibility requirements for Medicaid or CHIP, you may still be able to purchase low-cost health insurance through your state’s health insurance Marketplace. This applies whether you lost your health insurance due to the pandemic or if you are uninsured for any other reason.

If you select a Marketplace plan, your coverage won’t start immediately. Rather, it would begin the first day of the month after your last health insurance policy ended. You must plan for this delay.

Beginning with the 2019 tax year, the ACA no longer penalizes those who are uninsured. However, some states still require residents to provide proof of health insurance coverage to avoid paying a tax surcharge.

Paradoxically, the United States is the only one of 33 developed countries that doesn’t have a universal health care plan. Recent events drive home the lesson that a population without access to basic health services could become a center of increased disease transmission. This could endanger many lives, particularly during a pandemic.

The pandemic has left millions of Americans in a vulnerable position. In my opinion, it illustrates the need for universal healthcare.

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