What to Do If You’ve Lost Health Insurance Due to COVID-19


What to Do If You’ve Lost Health Insurance Due to COVID-19

COVID-19.Health Insurance
Ilima Loomis
By Ilima Loomis
Apr 15, 2020 - Updated Jul 21, 2020
Illustration of a woman who has lost her health insurance during COVID-19. She is seated in a gray chair, holding her face in her left hand and a stack of health insurance papers in her right hand.

Millions of Americans have lost their jobs in the economic fallout of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. For many, that means they’ve also lost health insurance for themselves and their families — one study estimated that as many as 35 million Americans could lose their insurance coverage due to coronavirus-related employment changes.

Figuring out what to do when you’ve lost your health insurance can be particularly stressful at a time when people are also worried about potentially life-threatening illnesses. Fortunately, options are available to make sure your family still has the coverage you need. Here’s what you need to know.

Spousal Health Insurance Plans

If you’re married and your spouse has health insurance, one of your first steps should be to look into getting covered under their plan. For employer-sponsored insurance, loss of a spouse’s insurance coverage is a qualifying life event that allows you to sign up outside the normal open enrollment period. Take the time to check the cost of different options. It might cost less to get one family plan than to get two individual plans.

If your spouse is self-employed and gets insurance through a health exchange or private insurance, it might be more affordable to sign up for a family plan than for each of you to get an individual plan.

If you’re not married but you live with a long-term partner, check to see if their employer offers health insurance to domestic partners. You may have to prove your relationship by providing letters from family and friends, or evidence that you share the same residence.

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If your previous insurance plan was provided by an employer that had 20 or more employees, you probably qualify for COBRA. COBRA stands for the Consolidated Omnibus Reconciliation Act, a law that gives workers the right to pay to continue their coverage under their employer’s group health plan after losing coverage due to job loss, having their hours reduced, and other life events.

If you’ve been happy with your coverage and you are comfortable with your current plan, COBRA allows you to continue things exactly as they are. The downside is that you will have to pay the entire premium yourself, up to 102% of the cost of the plan.

If your employer previously covered a substantial portion of the cost, this can come with some major sticker shock. If you lose your job and qualify for COBRA, your plan will notify you about your options and you’ll have 60 days to elect to continue coverage.

As of Summer 2020, COBRA has updated its enrollment policy, giving people more time to enroll in COBRA during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Health Insurance Exchanges During COVID-19

You can shop for private health insurance, compare prices, and find a plan you can afford at a government health insurance exchange. Certain states have their own insurance marketplaces:

If you don’t live in one of those states, you can purchase a plan through HealthCare.gov, the federal health insurance exchange. If you’ve recently lost insurance due to job loss, you can qualify for a special enrollment period, which means you can purchase insurance now, rather than waiting for an open enrollment period.

And remember that if you sign up through a government exchange, you may qualify for a subsidy to help cover the cost of your insurance.

Medicaid and Medicare During Coronavirus Disease

If you’ve experienced a significant reduction in income as well as losing your insurance, you may qualify for Medicaid. Medicaid is a state- and federally-funded program that provides low- or no-cost health insurance coverage.

While requirements can vary from state to state, it generally covers people with low incomes. Eligibility is based on your current monthly income, not your annual income, so if your income has recently dropped, you may qualify even if you made too much money last year. Find out if you may qualify with this eligibility checker.

There’s no enrollment period, so you can sign up at any time throughout the year.

If you’re over age 65, or you have certain disabilities, you can qualify for Medicare. Some people assume that Medicare is free health insurance, but it’s not. While you pay no premiums for Medicare Part A, which covers hospital care, nursing, hospice, and some other health services, there is a deductible you’ll have to pay before coverage kicks in. And you will pay a premium for other Medicare plans, with higher rates for people with more income.

How to Save Money On Healthcare While Uninsured

While options are available to get health insurance, there are also things you can do to save money while you’re uninsured.

  • Consider opening a Health Savings Account (HSA) to save money for medical expenses.
  • For non-emergencies, look into walk-in health clinics, which are usually more affordable than a visit to the doctor’s office or hospital.
  • Ask if your clinic or doctor will offer a discount if you pay in cash.
  • If you get care at an urgent care clinic, in the emergency room, or at the doctor’s office, contact the billing department after the fact, and see if you can negotiate to have your bill reduced or waived, or work out a payment plan.
  • Use the RxSaver™ tool to find coupons and save up to 85% on prescription medications.
  • Consider using telehealth services instead of a regular doctor appointment.  Plenty of companies offer out of pocket plans that may be cheaper than a face-to-face appointment.
  • Take care of your overall health by eating a healthy diet, exercising, and getting plenty of sleep. Keep up with regular health screenings, so you can catch health problems early while they are easier and more affordable to treat.
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Changes under the CARES Act

Congress recently passed a massive coronavirus package, known as the CARES Act. In addition to other forms of relief, the legislation includes several provisions that affect insurance coverage, including requiring insurance plans to cover treatment for COVID-19 and to provide free testing for coronavirus.

The package also expands Medicaid coverage of telehealth services and provides billions of dollars in funding for hospitals, community health centers, and veteran health services.

This is a challenging time for everyone, and if you’ve recently lost your insurance due to job loss it can be even more stressful. Fortunately, there are options available to help you get the coverage you need, so you can feel confident your healthcare is accessible in the weeks and months ahead.

Ilima Loomis

Ilima Loomis

Ilima Loomis is a freelance writer and journalist who specializes in writing about health care, HR, science, travel, and Hawaii. You can find more of her work at ilimaloomis.com. Ilima is a regular contributor to the RxSaver blog.

The information on this site is generalized and is not medical advice. It is intended to supplement, not substitute for, the expertise and judgment of your healthcare professional. Always seek the advice of your healthcare professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard seeking advice or delay in seeking treatment because of something you have read on our site. RxSaver makes no warranty as to the accuracy, reliability or completeness of this information.

If you are in crisis or you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately.