Have You Lost Your Job Health Insurance?

by Wendy Barnett

When you have lost your job, your medical insurance from your employer can end, too.  Being without work can be a stressful time, but understanding your health insurance options doesn’t have to be. There are four important things to know when you have lost your job health insurance:

  1. COBRA will most likely be offered to you from your employer, but it is usually expensive and you do have other options
  2. Time is of the essence – there are rules about when you can apply for health insurance
  3. You may qualify for help such as Medi-Calwhich can be free or an Advanced Premium Tax Credit (APTC) which lowers the cost of your health insurance
  4. In California, the California Exchange (Covered California) is the only place that offers APTC

Did you know that since the Affordable Care Act took effect, most people must apply for their health insurance during a particular period of time each year? This period, which is called Open Enrollment, occurs annually in the fall. Once Open Enrollment closes, a Special Enrollment Period begins in which applicants must experience a Qualifying Life Event in order to apply.

Health Insurance Loss During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, there have been over 1 million reported cases and over 50,000 associated deaths in the United States. As COVID-19 continues to impact communities across the country, people need access to health care more than ever. Unfortunately, many people — including Californians — have lost their health insurance coverage during this difficult time.

Social distancing and self-isolation have become important tools in preventing the spread of the coronavirus. However, the need to stay home has also led to millions of job losses — both temporary and permanent. For people who receive private health insurance coverage through an employer, this means their ability to access health care may be at risk.

To minimize the impact of pandemic-related job losses, Covered California has opened a Special Enrollment Period for qualifying individuals. If you have lost health insurance coverage due to COVID-19, Health for California is here to help you navigate your options.

Signing Up for Coverage During Special Enrollment

In response to the challenges Californians are facing due to COVID-19, Covered California has extended its enrollment period through June 30, 2020. Until the Special Enrollment Period closes, uninsured individuals can enroll in a public health plan through the marketplace or with the help of a licensed agent. Since the enrollment period began, more than 58,000 people have signed up for coverage, and many more will likely follow in the coming months.

If you lost your job and insurance due to the coronavirus, you might also qualify for Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid health care program. Medi-Cal enrollment stays open year-round, so you can apply at any time. In California, the law requires most people to have health insurance or pay a fine, so it’s important to begin looking for coverage as soon as you become uninsured.

Finding Financial Assistance During the Pandemic

In addition to the surge in unemployment, many people in California have seen a reduction in their hours and pay. The financial impacts of COVID-19 have left people wondering how they will pay their insurance premiums. Whether you are currently insured or uninsured, a new state subsidy program could help you get the care you need. The subsidy has expanded the amount of financial assistance available for people who make up to $75,000 per year, or $150,000 for a family of four.

If you are currently enrolled in insurance through Covered California and have lost all or part of your income, you should also check to see if you qualify for lower premiums, since people with lower incomes can receive additional assistance.

Short-Term vs. Long-Term Options

If you lost your insurance due to COVID-19, you might not know how long you will remain uninsured. Some people will return to their jobs after social distancing guidelines are lifted. Others may need more time to find a new job. Signing up for an insurance plan during a Special Enrollment Period provides a convenient option if you know you will need insurance for the rest of the year. However, if you think you will find a job that provides health insurance soon, a short-term option may work for you.

California no longer allows the purchase or sale of short-term health insurance. Instead, Californians can purchase health sharing plans through Health Care Sharing Ministries (HCSM). These affordable plans can fill gaps in coverage for periods that range between 30 days and 12 months, relieving the pressure while you search for a new position.

Common Questions About Losing Health Insurance

Whether you lost your job due to the coronavirus or left to pursue a new direction, losing your health insurance can feel overwhelming. Here are answers to a few common questions you might have:

What are Qualifying Life Events?

Qualifying Life Events (QLE) are big life occurrences called triggering life events that allow you to enroll in health insurance outside of the “normal” allowable time. There is a whole list of life events that can be applicable, but losing your employer health insurance due to a job loss or change, is typically an acceptable QLE.

You may have a QLE that allows you to enroll in health insurance during a Special Enrollment Period.  Here are the important guidelines if you have recently lost employer health insurance:

  • The date of the loss of coverage must have occurred within the last 60 days
  • Your loss must be involuntary
  • You must be able to provide verification to prove your loss of coverage and the loss event date upon request

It is important to know that Covered CA does require a random selection of applicants who enroll during the Special Enrollment Period to provide verification documents for their qualifying life event.

How do I find out the date of my loss of coverage?

Ask your employer or the human resources department at your work about when your employer coverage will end. You can apply up to 60 days before and up to 60 days after your loss event date.

What about quitting my job?

Losing your health insurance from your job because you quit can count as a life event! Just make sure to apply for coverage within 60 days.

If I cancel my COBRA coverage, will that be counted as a QLE?

No. Canceling your COBRA because it is too expensive or you have changed your mind is not considered “involuntary,” so it is not a QLE.  As a result, it is wise to explore your options, including Covered CA plans, before you elect to take COBRA.

Please note, if you applied for a Covered CA plan within your 60-day window of time from your loss of coverage date, and you find out that your insurance won’t start right away, you can opt to take your COBRA coverage for a month or two to fill in the gap. Just be sure to cancel your COBRA when your Covered CA plan is supposed to start. 

Will I be able to afford health insurance with my job loss?

Many people are surprised to find out that they can receive APTC through Covered CA that helps their health insurance premiums to be very affordable. Some monthly premiums can be as low as $1. It’s easy to find out if you qualify for APTC by getting a free quote. Remember to include all of your household income for the quote (this would be income from each person who appears on your tax return for the current benefit year, income from your prior job, and any unemployment benefits that you might be receiving).

What if my loss does not count as a QLE?

You may have a different life event that does count – check the list of Qualifying Life Events to find out. If your loss does not qualify, here are a few things you should remember:

  • If you don’t have a QLE, you can enroll during the next Open Enrollment in the fall of each year
  • If your income is low, you may qualify for Medi-Calwhich is open for enrollment year-round
  • You may have to pay a Health Insurance Penalty if you go without health insurance

Need help?

The rules surrounding health insurance enrollment times can be confusing. To get a free quote with a subsidy or ask questions about applying during a Special Enrollment Period, call one of our Certified Covered California Agents at 877-752-4737.

Not sure how Obamacare affects your health care plans in California? Learn how the ACA works in California, including benefits, costs and enrollment.

Covered California is the Golden State’s official health exchange marketplace where individuals, families and small businesses can find high-quality, low-cost California government health insurance.

Learn about Obamacare income guidelines in California using our income limits chart, and see if you’re eligible for government assistance.

Learn about the Covered California website. Find easy online enrollment. Set up your account, log in, buy insurance and more on the California health marketplace website.