How to Maintain Health Insurance While Unemployed
If you are newly unemployed, you may be concerned about how you will find or maintain affordable health insurance coverage.
You may be particularly worried if you were receiving your coverage through your former employer.
Fortunately, being unemployed does not mean that you are without options. In fact, you may find that you qualify for new options not previously available to you.
When you become unemployed, you typically have four primary health care coverage options:
- Have a family member add you to their health insurance plan.
- Extend your existing coverage through COBRA insurance
- Select an alternative health insurance plan or policy through the health insurance marketplace that better fits your needs and budget.
- Apply for Medicaid, Medicare or other low-cost or no-cost federal health insurance programs for which you qualify.
Learn About Affordable Health Insurance Coverage Through a Family Plan
For many newly unemployed workers, the simplest option for maintaining affordable health insurance coverage is to enroll in a plan or policy through a spouse, partner or other family member’s employer.
Options vary, and enrollees may find it helpful to contact their Human Resources department or other internal support personnel for assistance in navigating their plan choices.
Learn About COBRA Insurance Coverage
Established by the federal Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, COBRA Insurance gives workers the option to keep their employer-based health insurance policies when they leave or are terminated from a job.
COBRA can be a particularly attractive option for workers who:
- Expect to find new employment soon and only need short-term, stop-gap coverage.
- Have strong relationships with their current health care providers and want to ensure they can continue receiving care from those specific providers.
- Do not have family members with policies under which they might alternatively find coverage.
It is important to be aware that the availability and affordability of health insurance options under COBRA may vary widely between states, employers and individual workers’ situations.
Some workers may not qualify for COBRA coverage and limits on how long former workers may keep their coverage apply.
Workers will also be required to pay the full cost of their policies and, in some cases, additional premiums may apply, as well.
How to Find New Coverage in the Health Insurance Marketplace
You automatically qualify for a Special Enrollment Period in the health insurance marketplace if you lose your health insurance coverage due to a change in employment.
This is true whether you already hold an insurance policy purchased through the marketplace or if you have been receiving coverage through your employer.
Special Enrollment Periods are only open for a limited amount of time after you leave or lose your job, so it is important to review your options as soon as possible after becoming unemployed.
Some states operate their own marketplaces, while others refer residents to the nationally operated marketplace.
In both cases, marketplace health insurance policies offer applicants a range of coverage and cost options.
User-friendly online interfaces will help you determine your options and select the most affordable plans suited to your needs.
You may qualify for discounted or subsidized plans if you meet certain criteria such as age or income limits or Native American heritage.
Learn About Federal Free Healthcare Programs
Depending on your age, health status and other factors, you may qualify for free healthcare under federal programs such as Medicaid or CHIP when you become unemployed.
Even if you do not qualify for no-cost healthcare, you may qualify for reduced-cost or subsidized coverage under these or similar programs.
“Do I qualify for Medicaid?” is a question many newly unemployed workers are unsure how to answer. In general, to be eligible for Medicaid or CHIP coverage you meet at least one of the following criteria:
- Have a household income that falls at or below state or federal low-income limits.
- Have children or be pregnant at the time of application.
- Qualify as elderly.
- Have a formally diagnosed disability.
Specific policies and limits on enrollment in these free healthcare programs vary by state. The federal government encourages all unemployed workers to apply, even if they do not think they will qualify.
You may be surprised to find that you do qualify or, even if you do not, you may find that the enrollment system directs you to other resources and supports for which you are eligible.
This can be extremely helpful in evaluating your full range of options and identifying the most beneficial ones for your needs and situation.
Learn About Other Low-cost Healthcare Options
Some workers prefer to keep or source their healthcare through Blue Cross Blue Shield and other national, well-known insurers while unemployed.
If you already have coverage under such a company, it is essential that you contact your provider when your employment status changes.
Changes in employment and income typically change your eligibility, and you may find that during your period of unemployment you are eligible for cost reductions and other assistance previously unavailable to you.
Insurance agents may also be able to assist you in adjusting your policy, temporarily or permanently, in ways that reduce or defer your standard costs.
This can help you save money while you look for and transition into a new job.
Learn About Affordable Health Insurance Essentials
The most important thing to remember about finding affordable health insurance while unemployed is that your best options will be available immediately after your employment ends.
You are only eligible to change or purchase marketplace health insurance policies during short-term Special Enrollment Period windows immediately after your change of employment status.
Similarly, if you qualify for COBRA and wish to take advantage of the option to extend your employer-based coverage, you need to do so within a short period of time after your employment ends.
Becoming unemployed, voluntarily or involuntarily, can be stressful. But you cannot afford to delay addressing your health care insurance situation and needs during this busy time, because doing so may prevent you from accessing the best and most affordable health care plans and options.
Fortunately, however, there are no deadlines or restricted enrollment periods for free healthcare programs such as Medicaid or CHIP.
Even if you have been unemployed for some time and other low-cost plans are no longer available to you, you can always apply for these programs if you need assistance.