Recent world events may have led you to believe that this would be a bad time to not have health insurance right now. And while we can’t judge your individual need for insurance, we can probably say that in general, you should think about getting coverage.
But if you don’t have coverage through work—or you just got laid off—it can be tricky to know exactly how to get health insurance. Let’s review the options you have available right now
If you lost your insurance coverage
If you recently lost your job due to the pandemic, you have two main options: buy your own insurance or use COBRA, which allows you to keep the same coverage plan your employer sponsored.
COBRA allows you to maintain your coverage for up to 18 months, but has pros and cons, according to Shobin Uralil, co-founder and COO of health savings account provider Lively. If you want to stay with your in-network providers for a chronic condition or take a prescription drug that’s covered by your group’s plan, it may be worth taking advantage of COBRA so you can maintain that level of care.
But of course, cost can be a factor. When you have COBRA, you’re responsible for the entire cost of your insurance coverage that your employer pays, not just the amount of your premium that’s been deducted from your paycheck. That monthly premium can come as a big shock. “Employees are shielded from the true costs of a plan,” Uralil said.
If you can’t justify the costs of being on COBRA, this could be a good time to shop around for what matters to you in a healthcare plan, whether it be a wide availability of health professionals in your area, a good prescription drug program, or reasonable co-pays.
You can shop for insurance on healthcare.gov or your state exchange, where you have 60 days after losing your job to qualify for a special enrollment period.
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Uralil said you can also shop for Affordable Care Act coverage through sites like Stride, HealthSherpa, and eHealth.
If you haven’t had insurance
Maybe your employer or former employer didn’t offer health insurance, or you’re a gig worker who wants to get coverage now.
Typically, you’d have to wait until an open enrollment period to get covered through the Affordable Care Act. But some states have reopened their open enrollment periods to accommodate residents who want to get covered as soon as possible.
If you live in California, Colorado, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, or Washington, you may be eligible to sign up through your state exchange. AARP has a list of participating states and links to each state enrollment portal.
If you’re worried about paying for insurance coverage, Uralil said to remember that there are subsidies available for people who make less than about $50,000 per year. A subsidy can dramatically reduce the amount you pay per month for coverage.
If you still have insurance
Still insured? You may be wondering if your coverage is enough.
A couple of changes to keep in mind during the coronavirus:
If you have a high-deductible health plan (HDHP) with a health savings account (HSA), any coronavirus testing and treatment can be covered by your plan without hurting your status. (Typically, you don’t get any services covered by your plan until you’ve exhausted that high deductible.) The adjustment includes telehealth visits, and is valid through December 31, 2021.
In addition, your HSA pre-tax funds can now be used to pay for over-the-counter drugs and menstrual care products. That’s a permanent change that’s included in the CARES Act. It’s good for FSA accounts, too; You could previously buy over-the-counter medication with FSA funds, but menstrual care products are a new addition.
One more thing that may provide comfort: many insurance companies are waiving the costs of testing and diagnosing the coronavirus altogether, although you may still need to pay out of pocket for hospitaliz
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