Lost your job? You may still be eligible for Obamacare

People who lose their jobs have a 60-day window to sign up for a health insurance plan through the Affordable Care Act.
Opa-locka Assistant City Manager George Ellis packages okra at a drive-thru food distribution site at Sherbondy Park on April 14 in Opa-locka. Hundreds of people lined up for the fresh vegetables and fruit.
Opa-locka Assistant City Manager George Ellis packages okra at a drive-thru food distribution site at Sherbondy Park on April 14 in Opa-locka. Hundreds of people lined up for the fresh vegetables and fruit. [ WILFREDO LEE | AP ]
Published April 16, 2020

As unemployment mounts in Florida and around the country, many workers face losing their health insurance.

But there are options available through the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, and state, local or private programs, experts say.

"People forget that the marketplace plan cost is based on projected income for the year,” said Jodi Ray, director of Florida Covering Kids And Families, a health insurance navigation program at the University of South Florida. “If someone’s income has changed, that means the tax subsidies that they quality for has changed, too.”

The Family Healthcare Foundation has been busy fielding calls from unemployed residents in the Tampa Bay area who are looking for emergency health care coverage for at least their children, said Executive Director Melanie Hall.

Related: 22 million Americans apply for unemployment benefits in less than a month

“Typically families contact us to get their children covered because they assume they can’t get coverage for themselves, which is not the case,” Hall said.

The Family Healthcare Foundation helps people enroll in a variety of federal, state and local health insurance programs, from Medicaid to Florida Kid Care to the Affordable Care Act. If an individual has lost their job, or even if their income has changed because of lost hours or furloughs, there are options for health care coverage, Hall said.

Any change in income can qualify an individual for special enrollment under the Affordable Care Act, she said.

“If someone lost their employer insurance, regardless of their current income — even if it’s zero — they can still qualify under the Affordable Care Act,” Hall said. “And if they don’t qualify for a marketplace plan, it’s possible that could be eligible for a county health insurance plan, and that plan may be free.”

Health insurance plans on the federal marketplace are only available for a 60-day window to those who have lost their job, Hall said.

“That’s the part we’re concerned about,” she said. “People will be thinking of their immediate needs like paying the electric bill and rent, and maybe not prioritizing health care coverage. Then that window might pass.”

One of the most common questions Hall is getting during the coronavirus pandemic is, what happens if someone can’t afford to pay their monthly premium anymore?

“There are a lot of factors to consider, from income to the size of a family. Many of these county programs in Pinellas, Hillsborough and Polk counties are based on income levels. But there are health care facilities locally that offer sliding scale payment options, too,” she said.

Even if people can still afford to pay their premiums through an Obamacare plan, they should update their change in income right away with the federal exchange, Ray said.

“You might qualify for new or more tax credits that you’re not currently getting,” she said. “And in the least, you want to keep it updated so you’re not paying more for the subsidies you got at the end of the year.”

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The number of applications Ray has for Florida Kid Care, which is a state-offered insurance program for children up to age 18, has tripled, she said.

“We’re seeing a lot of folks in this kind of situation right now,” she said.

Florida Blue, the state’s largest insurer, is continuing to see members virtually and over the phone about questions or changes to their health insurance plans, said Dave Pizzo, market president in Tampa Bay for Florida Blue. Pizzo said the main concern from members is how to keep their coverage, despite all the uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak.

“If someone has been displaced for work, we’re seeing employer coverage be extended in some cases for a longer period,” Pizzo said. “People who lose their jobs qualify for the federal COBRA program, but that can get quite expensive. It’s not necessarily affordable for someone who just lost their job.”

Florida Blue has also opened a special enrollment period for its fully insured employer members, which allows employees of companies who offer Florida Blue coverage to make changes to their plans, like add a spouse or a dependent they didn’t previously cover.

“It can be scary to go without health care during a health crisis,” Pizzo said.

Florida Blue also offers health plans on the federal exchange, and agents can help assist individuals interested in signing up for Obamacare or reassessing their current plan.

“It’s important for people to know that there are options out there,” Pizzo said.

Questions about health insurance?

Family Healthcare Foundation: 813-995-7005

Covering Florida: 877-813-9115

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