Health Insurance Losses Mounting During COVID-19 Pandemic

 
If you know five people who had a job in February, it’s likely one of them is no longer working.

Since the coronavirus pandemic began invading the U.S., 30.3 million people have applied for unemployment assistance.

About 4.4 million applied two weeks ago and another 3.8 million last week. Some economists predict that this will jump to 10.4 percent in 2020.

Many Americans who have not been laid off have had their hours cut. Others have received compensation reductions as their companies try to stay afloat.

Layoffs Worsen Health Insurance Woes

Losing a job is traumatic enough during normal times. These are hardly normal times.

There doesn’t seem to be much light at the end of the tunnel. Many people are worried about their ability to feed their families.

Of great concern is this. Along with job losses and reduction of hours has come the loss of health plans provided by employers.

Monthly health plan premiums have been high for a while now. But most people found them manageable. Now they’re out of reach for many who are earning less.

COBRA an Option for Some

Jon Gruber is an economist with Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He says the number of people losing coverage will rise.

“We’ve never seen such a dramatic increase in such a short period of time,” he told National Public Radio.

Many people who lose their coverage when they lose their jobs count on COBRA. That’s the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act.

It allows them to stay on their same plan for 18 to 36 months, depending on the size of the business. But now they have their share and the employer’s share.

COBRA Relief Bill Considered

The amount of COBRA is often higher than what a working person can afford.

Here’s what researcher Jill Berk says. “When you’re actually facing those choices, choosing between rent and food and more, that COBRA amount looks quite high.”

Congress is considering an act called the Worker Health Coverage Protection Act.

It would fully fund the COBRA. Legislators pushing it would like to roll it into the next relief act.

Business Closings Factor In

Only those who received coverage through employers are eligible for COBRA.

So even if the act passes, more than 50 percent of those who lost jobs over the past couple of months could take advantage.

And even if someone is eligible, they don’t have a shot if their former place of work goes out of business.

Adding to the problem is that many who lost work were in retail and hospitality. Those are industries less likely to give plans to employees.

Are There Other Options?

A pandemic is wreaking havoc around the world. So, it’s more important than ever to have medical coverage.

This is a scary reality for those who recently lost jobs that included medical plans.

On the plus side, testing for COVID-19 doesn’t cost anything now. Thanks to the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. On the downside, hospitalizations are higher.

Researchers at the Kaiser Family Foundation say a hospital stay for pneumonia runs about $10,000. It jumps to $20,000 with major complications.

Health Insurance Exchanges

If you are ineligible for COBRA – or feel it’s too much – you could look into state health plan exchanges. They help families and individuals with coverage.

Losing coverage due to a job loss is considered a “qualifying life event.” So, you then have 30-60 days to get it before the special enrollment period closes.

Normally, enrollment only occurs from November to January. But due to the pandemic, some states have reopened their enrollment period.

Which means you can enroll in those states even if you don’t experience a qualifying life event.

Medicaid or CHIP

Another option is learning whether you qualify for Medicaid. Or whether a child or grandchild qualifies for CHIP. That’s the Children’s Health Insurance Program. If eligible, you can sign up at any time.

In most states, you can qualify for Medicaid based strictly on how much you make. You must make less than 133 percent of the federal poverty level.

Other states have different requirements. In some states a person can qualify if pregnant, elderly, disabled or a child’s caretaker.

Medicaid and CHIP are required to cover the coronavirus test. As well as the visit to the healthcare facility where it is administered.

Spouse or Family Coverage

Another possibility for some is applying for coverage through a spouse’s or family’s plan.

A loss of job and medical coverage could be viewed as a qualifying life event.

Some hospitals have charity care programs for those who can’t get treatment.

And some community health centers provide care at a reduced amount or nothing at all. That’s through the Health Resources and Services Administration.

5 Ways to Lower Expenses

GoodRX.com finds discounts for medications. Here are five of their suggestions for lowering healthcare.

Look around. Different doctor’s offices have different rates.
Ask about financial options. Some allow you to settle over time.
Use telemedicine services. Phone and video visits with providers are usually less.
Get items in bulk. Inquire about 90-day supplies of meds, which conserve funds.
Set up a savings account for healthcare. Only use the funds for medical.

Our hearts go out to those struggling with losses during these trying days. If you’re one of them, I hope you’ll look into every possibility to stay covered.

About Jeff Reagan, Editor, Jeff Reagan's Daily Health Newsletter for Conservatives

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