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Know your health insurance options if you lose your job

URBANA, Ill. - With businesses shutting down temporarily or scaling back staff, employees should consider the impact of layoffs on their health insurance coverage before their existing coverage ends to ensure there are no gaps in your coverage.

"Health care coverage is critical during this current health crisis," says Kathy Sweedler, University of Illinois Extension consumer and family economics educator. "Consider several available options to ensure you have health insurance to keep you and your family healthy."

Consider your options:

Sign up for COBRA.
Short for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, this option allows you to retain and continue your current employer health coverage for up to 18 months. In this way, everything you’re used to stays the same: same doctors, networks, co-pays, and deductibles. Sweedler warns of a downside that may impact whether COBRA is a financially-feasible option. "You will pay your entire monthly health insurance premiums yourself, the part you usually paid, plus any amount your employer was paying on your behalf."

Sign on to your spouse’s health coverage.
If your spouse has health insurance, one may be able to be added to their spouse’s healthcare plan coverage. The cost of that coverage will come out of your spouse’s paycheck, so before you make the decision, you may want to comparison shop, Sweedler says.

Buy your own plan on the health insurance Marketplace.
The Affordable Care Act introduced an online health insurance Marketplace that allows individuals to buy private plans. "You're generally entitled to apply for a new plan if you lose your existing health coverage, even though the annual open-enrollment period to sign up for Marketplace plans has passed," Sweedler says.

In Illinois, one has 60 days prior to losing coverage through 60 days after losing health insurance coverage to purchase through the Marketplace. "If you don’t enroll during this time period," Sweedler says, "you can’t enroll through the Marketplace and need to wait until the next open enrollment period."

"There are several different plans to choose from, and all of them have a deductible, the amount you need to pay before health insurance pays for care," Sweedler says. "Typically, the lower the monthly premiums, the higher the deductible. The benefit of the Marketplace plans is that, depending on your income, you may qualify for subsidies and tax credits, Sweedler says, which can reduce the cost of the premiums.

Be advised: in order to get credits and subsidies, one needs to purchase the plans through the Marketplace or an accredited health insurance broker or provider. Determine potential subsidy amounts at the website.

Apply for Medicaid and/or Child Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

Medicaid and CHIP provides free or low-cost health coverage to millions of Americans, including low-income individuals, families and children, pregnant women, the elderly, and people with disabilities.

"If your income is low, you may be eligible for Medicaid which covers families, or the Children’s Health Insurance Program which covers children only." Fill out the online form to determine eligibility and next steps, Sweedler says. In Illinois, the Illinois Department of Human Services website helps one apply for Medicaid, CHIP, and other assistance programs.

"Being without health insurance during this time can be scary," says Sweedler. "Take the steps you need to protect your family now and in the future. Your well-being now and in the future will depend on it."

For assistance understanding health insurance or estimating out of pocket costs, one may view video tutorials and tools on the University of Delaware Cooperative Extension Health Insurance 4U website.

SOURCE: Kathy Sweedler, University of Illinois Extension 
SOURCEMaria Pippidis, University of Delaware Cooperative Extension
WRITER: Judy Mae Bingman, University of Illinois Extension