Millions of Americans have lost their jobs, been laid off or had their hours reduced because of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Most have lost their job-based health coverage as a result.  If this has happened to you, there are options for obtaining other coverage for you and your family.  

  •  If you have no income or it’s low enough, you may be eligible for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (“CHIP”).  The U.S. CARES Act passed on March 27th provides that the amount of federal pandemic unemployment insurance benefits is not counted in determining your income for purposes of Medicaid and CHIP.  (See LR’s What You Need to Know Now on unemployment benefits  here and here).  In New York, you can apply for Medicaid and CHIP online here or call 1-800-355-5777, and in New Jersey here or call 1-800-701-0710.  You can also apply in person at your local social services department, although many of them are closed due to the health emergency. 
  • If your income is too high to qualify you for Medicaid, you may be eligible for subsidized health coverage on your state’s Obamacare exchange or marketplace.  Even though the open enrollment period under the exchanges has passed, loss of job-based coverage entitles you to a “special enrollment period.”  You must apply within 60 days of losing coverage.  In New York, you can apply at the website and phone number above.  In New Jersey, you can apply here or 1-800-318-2596.  If you buy coverage on the exchange, you can cancel that coverage if you later regain health coverage through your employer. 
  • You and your family can apply to your job-based health plan for COBRA.  The plan can charge you up to 102% of the cost of coverage and you have 60 days to pay your first monthly premium.  Your employer must inform you of your right to choose COBRA.

My sister didn’t have health coverage through her job and is uninsured.  She’s terrified about her medical bills if she’s hospitalized because of COVID-19. Is there anything she can do?

Some states, including New York, have opened a Special Enrollment Period under their Obamacare exchanges to permit uninsured individuals to enroll in health insurance.  In New York, you have until April 15th to apply and coverage will start April 1st.  Unless President Trump authorizes it, New Jersey does not have a special enrollment period.