Coronavirus unemployment leaves people scrambling for health insurance; here's how to get it

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Tens of thousands of Illinoisans have recently lost their jobs and the health insurance that comes with them. Coronavirus fears have the uninsured scrambling to find coverage, but there are a number of ways to get insurance.

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If you recently lost your job that included insurance coverage, the government's Affordable Care Act, or ACA, marketplace is an option during a special enrollment period.

"You have 60 days from the time you lose your coverage to enroll in a marketplace plan, and you may qualify for financial help to pay premiums and out-of-pocket costs depending on your income," said JoAnn Volk of Georgetown University's Center on Health Insurance Reforms.

To get the best price, let marketplace insurers know what you expect your income to drop to for the rest of the year.

Another option is Cobra coverage. Your former employer must offer this short-term extension of your company's insurance, but you have to pay the full premium yourself.

For those who did not previously have insurance but want coverage, the ACA's marketplace is not available in Illinois.

"Illinois is one of the states that relies on the federal government to run the marketplace that people go to, healthcare.gov, to shop and that's really a decision for the Trump administration to make," said Volk. "People are hoping that they do open up the marketplace for 60 days."
And there's now is a new option for the uninsured.

"They may be able to sign up for Medicaid and they may qualify for a special enrollment period for health insurance exchange. They should look into that right away," said Katherine Baicker of the University of Chicago's Harris School of Public Policy.

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"Medicaid is open year-round, and especially if you've lost a job and your income now has dropped down to zero, your household has very little coming in, Illinois is one of the states that expanded that program to cover more people," Volk added.

For those insured, premiums are locked in for the rest of 2020 but not beyond.

"Premiums may very well rise for next year, but it's not yet clear how much," explained Baicker. "It may be that premiums rise across the board."

Experts say that no matter what your insurance situation is, don't hesitate getting the care you need if you feel you have COVID-19 symptoms. They believe it's in the best interested of the insurance companies that the spread of this virus is contained.
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