COVID-19 has unleashed two competing emergencies in the U.S. -- a health crisis and an economic crisis. Millions of Americans have lost their jobs due to the pandemic. Unfortunately, job loss could also mean loss of health insurance, which is problematic in the midst of a pandemic.
There are several options to maintain your health coverage. You can stay on your former employer's health plan through COBRA, you can purchase a plan on the healthcare marketplace, or you can join your spouse's workplace plan.
COBRA is a federal program that allows you and your family to continue on your employer's healthcare plan after you leave your job. You should receive notification in the mail detailing your options under COBRA within 30 to 45 days of your last day of work. If you choose to accept the coverage, it will be retroactive to that last day.
To keep you prior job-provided coverage, you must pay the full amount of the premiums. That includes the portion you paid as an employee, as well as the portion paid by your former employer. You’ll owe premiums back to that date as well.
COBRA says you can continue, generally for up to 18 months, the same coverage you had while employed, regardless of whether you left voluntarily or were laid off.
A second option is the healthcare marketplace insurance which was developed after the enactment of the Affordable Care Act in 2010 to provide a range of health insurance options for individuals, families, and small businesses. The Marketplace's open enrollment period runs from November 1, 2020 to December 15, 2020. However, losing job-based coverage qualifies you for a special enrollment period. That special enrollment period lasts for 60 days from the date you parted ways with your employer. Notably, insurance offered through the Marketplace cannot deny any individual coverage, even for pre-existing conditions.
You can preview plans and estimated premiums by providing your zip code, along with some demographic and financial information. Your income may qualify you for lower rates. When you apply, you'll also find out if you're eligible for free or low-cost Medicaid coverage.
A third option is to enroll in your spouse’s plan. Employer plans should offer an enrollment period of at least 30 days for spouses who've lost coverage. If you're married and your spouse works, reach out to your spouse's plan administrator for a cost estimate and the enrollment deadline. You might need to supply some documentation of your marriage and job loss to your spouse's employer, but it'll be worth the paperwork.