Georgians who lose jobs, health insurance can sign up for ACA coverage

Open enrollment for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act ended months ago. But people experiencing significant life changes, such as losing their job-sponsored health insurance, can get a special opportunity to enroll. Individual plans bought on the ACA exchange can come with subsidies depending on the household’s annual income. (Screenshot: Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services via AP)

Affordable health insurance may be available for some who were laid off in the coronavirus economy.

People who make low or middling incomes are often eligible for subsidized health care plans on the Affordable Care Act exchange market, but the only time they can enroll is usually in the fall.

However, when people experience a big life event, such as losing health insurance because they were laid off, they can get a special chance to enroll. It’s a new window of time for them, called a special enrollment period, or SEP, that extends 60 days after they lost their health insurance.

As the economy has ground to a halt with the coronavirus shutdown, unemployment claims have soared and many Georgians feel in danger of layoffs. If people lose their insurance along with their jobs, they can contact the ACA exchange or people who give assistance enrolling in ACA plans to see whats available.

“Though our agents may be at home in their bunny slippers, we will have a full team of people available to assist,” said Fred Ammons, the CEO of Insure Georgia, a health care nonprofit that assists people in signing up.

MORE: A map of coronavirus cases in Georgia

MORE: Real-time stats and the latest news on the coronavirus outbreak

State Insurance Commissioner John King also pointed out in a news release that employees who are laid off are allowed to buy continued insurance, under the federal COBRA health insurance law and a similar state law. That applies only to some employees of larger employers, who were let go for reasons other than gross misconduct.

The benefit of ACA coverage is lower-priced policies for those who qualify.

The ACA coverage comes with subsidies, based on the policyholder’s annual income, that mean lower premium prices.

The biggest subsidies go to those making at or just over the federal poverty level, or $12,490 for a one-person household. Those people can get policies that are so heavily subsidized they are free or almost free.

The subsidies wane as incomes climb, up to 400% of the federal poverty level, or a total of $49,960 for a one-person household. At incomes higher than that, the consumer pays full price for the policy.

Related: Study: Georgia COVID-19 pandemic to peak week of April 22

More: Complete coronavirus coverage

For those with the lowest incomes, below the federal poverty level, options are fewer. Medicaid, which covers the poor population in most states, does not cover all the poor in Georgia. Georgia children are generally eligible, though, as are people who have a government designation of being disabled.

Special enrollment periods apply to people who lost insurance. They don’t apply to people who lost healthshare coverage, as that isn’t insurance.

One thing to note: People who get a free plan because they just got laid off and predict very low income for 2020 need to keep track of what they end up making throughout the year and adjust their policy accordingly. If they get rehired and end up with a very large income that didn’t qualify for the federal subsidies, then come tax time they will owe all those subsidies back to the Internal Revenue Service.

WHERE TO FIND PRICES

  • Healthcare.gov

This is the federal website and phone bank for enrolling in Affordable Care Act exchange plans.

1-800-318-2596

TTY: 1-855-889-4325

ExploreHealthcare.gov
  • Insure Georgia

A nonprofit health insurance agency that started out as an ACA navigator organization. Also has information on whether people are a good fit for Medicaid or Medicare.

1-866-988-8246

ExploreInsureGA.org
  • HealthSherpa

A privately run website that presents ACA plans in a way some agents find easier to navigate than the federal site.

Explorehealthsherpa.com
  • Insurance agents

Some insurance agents are willing to enroll clients in ACA plans. Lists of them can be found on the healthcare.gov website.

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