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Free health insurance for jobless workers is ending. What to do now


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The federal government’s six-month health insurance subsidy for jobless workers through the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, or COBRA, will end this week.

Experts advise that you should get new coverage if your current insurance has been provided by this funding.

The American Rescue Plan, the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill passed in March, included a provision that offered unemployed people free health insurance coverage through COBRA from April 1 to Sept. 30.

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COBRA gives those who have left a company the option of staying on their former employer’s insurance plan, but it’s typically very expensive. Individuals must continue to pay the premium that they worked for, and any remaining premium which the former employer covered.

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The average total annual premium for job-based coverage in 2020 was $7,470 for individuals and $21,342 for families, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

According to experts, there was an overwhelming demand for the subsidy of six months. More than 16 million people lost their employer-sponsored health insurance during the pandemic, one estimate found.

Individuals who relied on federally-backed coverage for their health care should be notified by the former employer or insurance company that the subsidy period has ended.

In that notice, you’ll be able to see what your monthly bill will be without the government’s help.

If you find the new premium unaffordable, you’ll be entitled to a special 60-day enrollment period on the Affordable Care Act’s marketplace, said Sabrina Corlette, co-director of the Center on Health Insurance Reforms at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy. To avoid a gap in coverage, experts recommend you report your upcoming loss of COBRA coverage now.

Corlette stated that if you have been granted unemployment benefits for more than one week, then you might be eligible for a plan with $0 monthly premium. This is due to the American Rescue Plan’s increased tax credits.

If your income is low enough, you may qualify for Medicaid.

Corlette explained that the benefits are affordable and make sense for everyone who’s eligible.

If you are already employed by a company, your human resource department can help you to obtain employer-sponsored healthcare coverage.

You may need to wait before you can get this coverage.

Corlette stated that they may not have had the opportunity to sign up in time. For marketplace plans, the federal special enrollment period does not apply.

You may be able to stay on COBRA if you can afford the premiums, although keep in mind that there’s usually an 18-month limit to this option, said Laurel Lucia, director of the health-care program at the University of California Berkeley’s Center for Labor Research and Education.

The National Patient Advocate Foundation has compiled a guide comparing different health insurance plans. You can also consult with a local health-care “navigator.”