Health Insurance Options and Opportunities for COVID-19’s Economic Victims

People of certain income levels are unable to avail Medicaid. President Trump thinks it is unfair, but he is not planning to open a special enrollment period. The opening of a special enrollment period would certainly help people who lost jobs due to coronavirus to sign up for their health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

In such circumstances, it becomes difficult for a person who suddenly becomes jobless and is without any health care benefits. It is also a task for the administration to prevent another health crisis within the pandemic.

Find below some answers to questions about individual health coverage amid the COVID-19 crisis.

Can suddenly unemployed people sign up for health insurance?

The suddenly unemployed person may be able to sign up for health insurance depending upon where they live, their circumstances, and whether President Trump opens special enrollment periods or not. The special enrollment sign-up periods are reserved for people who face major life changes like marriage, child-birth, etc. But the outbreak of pandemic like COVID-19 is life-changing for many people, especially for those who suddenly lose their jobs or who are ill.

People might be eligible to sign up for an ACA plan, provided they have lost their employer-based health insurance. In most states, people will be able to sign up for Medicaid. If people are living in any of these states such as California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington State, or the District of Columbia, then they can sign up for a subsidized plan, even if they didn’t have health insurance before.

How a Special Enrollment Period can help people?

Earlier people can sign-up for an ACA plan either during the open enrollment period or when a qualifying event occurs. However, during this COVID-19 pandemic, some of the states are allowing its people to sign-up for an ACA plan, irrespective of the fact that whether they were previously enrolled in any health plan or not. Some states that use the federal marketplace requested the Trump administration to provide an open enrollment period. Governor of Arizona State has written a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary urging for a special enrollment period to ease the situation for the consumers. Consumers who have been laid off have paperwork burden because they have a limited time to sign-up for health insurance under the ACA’s qualifying event window. The states that have come up with a special enrollment period are allowing consumers to sign-up for ACA plans without providing such documents. Special enrollment periods are of limited periods. For instance, in Vermont, people must sign up for coverage by April 17.

Is Medicaid Coverage available for People

People who are eligible to apply for Medicaid plans can sign-up for this plan all through the year, unlike the Affordable Care Act plans that have a fixed open enrollment period. Around 36 states and Washington D.C. expanded Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act. Therefore, adults of those states who earn up to 138% of the federal poverty level, $17,236 per individual or $35,535 for a family of four, can sign-up for Medicaid coverage all through the year. People in the remaining 14 states that do not expand coverage have quite limited options under Medicaid for low-income families. COVID-19 cases are rapidly increasing in Florida that does not expand Medicaid coverage and Texas where Medicaid expansion was rejected by the governor and legislature. Both these states have the highest uninsured rate in the nation. Being out of work is not the only requirement that makes people eligible for Medicaid because if people have trusts or some other investments that earn them money, then they may become ineligible for Medicaid.

What are the other options for people besides ACA plans or Medicaid?

People who suddenly lose their jobs have the option of continuing with their company insurance through a health program known as COBRA. Though, the cost of this health plan can be expensive because consumers have to bear the full cost of the plan that will also include the amount contributed by the employer. Besides, people also have an option of short-term plans. The Trump administration in 2018 has removed a 90-day limit on short-term plans, so people can consider this plan too. Short-term plans offer limited benefits but are less expensive, so these plans can be a good option for some people. Though insurers can deny coverage for some medical conditions, which turn out to be a huge drawback of the plan.

Is it really hard to provide coverage to jobless people or is it simply a politics?

The current emergency indicates that health insurance coverage is critical, and lots need to be done to provide health coverage to as many people as possible. Considering this, it can be said that having a special enrollment period is the need-of-the-hour and administration not announcing it is surely a missed opportunity. It is creating inequality between people living in different states of the U.S.

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