WASHINGTON – Many laid-off workers who lost health insurance during the coronavirus shutdown soon face the first deadlines to qualify for backup coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Taxpayer-subsidized health insurance is available for a modest cost, sometimes even free, across the country, but industry officials and independent researchers say few people seem to know how to find it.

For those who lost their health insurance when layoffs increased in late March, a 60-day “special enrollment” period for individual coverage under the ACA closes next week in most states.

Altheia Franklin, who lives near Houston, lost her health plan after being fired from a job as a senior counselor in a retirement community.

Franklin said he received a lot of information from the government about coronavirus safety and economic stimulus payments, but “the insurance part just hasn’t been mentioned.”

He turned around and finally found an ACA plan, or “Obamacare,” that he could still pay on a reduced income. “We are in the middle of a pandemic, and God forbid if I get sick and don’t have it,” he said of his health insurance.

The nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that nearly 27 million workers and family members had lost health coverage through work earlier this month, a number now likely higher with increasing unemployment claims.

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Kaiser’s study also estimated that nearly 8 out of 10 of new policyholders would likely qualify for some type of coverage under former President Barack Obama’s health law, be it a private plan like Franklin found or Medicaid.

“The ACA is there as a safety net for the first time in an economic downturn,” said Kaiser foundation expert Larry Levitt. But “many people who lose their jobs have never had to think about depending on the ACA for coverage, so there is no reason for them to know their options.”

There are several options, not easy to classify. Some have application deadlines; Others do not. And the Trump administration, which still plans to ask the Supreme Court later this summer to declare “Obamacare” unconstitutional, is doing little to promote coverage of the health law.

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Like Altheia Franklin, people who lose insurance in the workplace generally have 60 days from the end of their coverage to apply for an ACA plan.

They can go to federal HealthCare.gov or your state’s health insurance website. Most states that run their own health insurance markets have provided an extended enrollment period for people who lost coverage in the pandemic. The federal market, which serves most of the country, has not.

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Nearly three-quarters of the states have expanded Medicaid to low-income adults under the Obama health law.

In those states, low-income adults may qualify for free or very low-cost coverage. There is no registration deadline.

The Kaiser Foundation estimates that nearly 13 million people who lost job insurance are eligible for Medicaid. But that option isn’t available in most southern states, as well as some in the Midwest and the Plains, because they haven’t expanded Medicaid.

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Laid off workers should be able to cover their children even if the adults in the family cannot help.

The federal Children’s Health Insurance Program and Medicaid cover children from families with incomes far above the poverty level. “Medicaid is open year-round if you are a parent with children who need coverage,” said Joan Alker, director of the Center for Children and Families at Georgetown University.

Randy Serrano has the information.


People can continue their employer coverage under a federal law known as COBRA, but they have to pay 102% of the premium, which is too much for most of the unemployed. If there is another congressional coronavirus bill, it could include subsidies for COBRA coverage.

Government statistics on people who lose, and find, health insurance coverage in coronavirus contraction will not be available for months.

The director of a California company that helps people find ACA coverage says that most of the new subscriptions they’re seeing are people who qualify for Medicaid, and there’s only been a modest increase for subsidized private plans.

“We all wonder where the hell everyone is,” said George Kalogeropoulos, CEO of Health Sherpa.

“People are trying to apply for unemployment first, and many of them get stuck there,” he added. “Health care is secondary, and if you get caught up in unemployment, people can never do the health thing.”

Alker, the Georgetown University expert, said insurance protection has been neglected in the pandemic.