By the Minnesota Council of Health Plans staff
One of the very unfortunate realities of the COVID-19 pandemic has been job loss. And with the loss of employment, often comes the loss of health insurance. As we continue to grapple with this ongoing health and economic crisis, it is important to know what other options for health care coverage are available — and that you don’t end up paying more than you need to.
Depending on your health, age and financial situation, you may qualify for low or no-cost health insurance coverage or for subsidies that will help lower what you pay for coverage if you are buying insurance on your own.
For instance, if you are 65 or have a disability (as defined by the federal government), you may want to shop for Medicare. If you are under 65, you can get insurance in a few ways, including through MNsure or directly from an insurer. Those under 65 may also qualify for Medicaid or MinnesotaCare, both of which are low or no-cost options.
You’ll also want to think about the types of care you already utilize and how often. For instance: How many times a year do you usually go to the doctor? And do you regularly take any prescription medications?
In this fragile and ever-changing economy, here are some answers to some frequently asked questions about what to do if you lose your employer-sponsored health insurance.
What should I do first?
If you’ve lost your employer-based health insurance coverage, first decide whether you want to extend your current health plan or buy a new one. If you want to continue your current plan, you can do that through COBRA continuation coverage. COBRA is a federal law that may let you stay on your employee health insurance for up to 18 months, as long as you pay the full premium and a small administrative fee. To learn about your COBRA options, contact your employer.
You may also consider enrolling in a spouse’s health coverage if that’s available, as your job loss would likely qualify as a life-changing event under that coverage. This is usually the most cost-effective option.
If that’s not possible and you need to buy a plan on your own, visit the Minnesota Health Insurance Marketplace, or MNsure, at www.mnsure.org. This site will show you your options for buying health insurance for yourself and/or your family, as well as how to potentially save money on premiums and other expenses. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 100,000 Minnesotans have come through MNsure to find health insurance coverage.
When can I buy coverage on the Marketplace?
Most people can only buy health insurance through the Marketplace during the traditional enrollment period. This year, that’s Nov. 1-Dec. 22. But if you’ve had a sudden loss of coverage or reduction in income, you may qualify for a special enrollment period and be able to purchase coverage immediately. In general, your coverage can start the first day of the month after you lost your insurance.
What’s the advantage of buying a health insurance plan on the Marketplace?
The main advantage is that you can find out if you qualify for subsidies on your monthly premiums and out-of-pocket health care costs, especially if you make less than $25,520 or are a member of a federally recognized American Indian tribe. The average amount of aid provided monthly is $431, so these savings can be substantial. If your annual income has fallen due to the pandemic or other issues, you may also qualify for other programs and benefits that could save you money. For example:
- You might be newly eligible for an advanced premium tax credit (APTC), or an increased APTC.
- You might be eligible for no- or low-cost coveragethrough Medical Assistance (Medicaid) or MinnesotaCare.
Which nonprofit Minnesota health insurance plans can I choose from?
Four of the Council’s seven member health plans have insurance plans on the Marketplace: Blue Cross Blue Shield Minnesota, HealthPartners, Medica and UCare. You can see all of the health and dental plans offering health insurance on MNsure at https://www.mnsure.org/shop-compare/about-plans/networks/index.jsp.
What if I need help buying an insurance plan?
MNsure has a statewide network of expert assisters to help you apply and enroll over the phone, as well as online help tools. The Contact Center is open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday at 651-539-2099 or 855-366-7873. You can also visit the Get Insurance page on the Minnesota Council of Health Plans website, which offers information on how to shop, kinds of insurance and where to get insurance.