Image via Shutterstock How to apply for healthcare coverage
Image via Shutterstock

Under the ACA, people who experience “qualifying life events,” such as losing their jobs, can enroll in a health insurance plan on the individual markets.

President Trump drew backlash Wednesday after his administration announced that it would not open up a special enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act during the coronavirus crisis. The good news is that millions of newly unemployed Americans can still sign up for insurance plans.

Under the Affordable Care Act, people who experience “qualifying life events,” such as losing their jobs, can enroll in a health insurance plan on the individual markets. Nearly 10 million Americans have filed unemployment claims in the past two weeks and an estimated 3.5 million of them likely lost their health insurance, according to an analysis of state and federal data from the Economic Policy Institute. 

While re-opening the Healthcare.gov individual markets would have streamlined this process and opened it up to all Americans, if you lost your employer-sponsored health insurance along with your job, you’re likely to qualify for coverage through the ACA. 

How To Apply For Coverage

  • Go to Healthcare.gov
  • Enter your zip code
  • Answer questions to determine whether you qualify for coverage through a “special enrollment period.” This “screening” includes questions about whether you’ve lost employer-sponsored health insurance or had a change in income. 
  • If you qualify based on your answers, you will then be given the option to complete an application. 

The cost of coverage under the ACA can be expensive. While costs vary from state to state and plan to plan, the average monthly premium for a benchmark plan (the second-lowest-cost silver plan) in 2020 is $388 for a 27-year-old enrollee and $1,520 for a family of four, with costs rising even higher for older adults. 

But depending on your income level and household situation, you may now qualify for free or low-cost coverage through Medicaid. You can determine if you qualify for Medicaid through Healthcare.gov. If you do qualify, you will have the chance to complete an application.  

While the Trump administration failed to re-open the insurance market and is in fact trying to repeal the ACA altogether, 11 states and the District of Columbia—which together are home to about 100 million Americans—reopened their own state-run marketplaces and are allowing everyone, regardless of job status, to sign up for coverage. Those states are California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. 

RELATED: If You Just Lost Your Job in One of These States, Here’s How You Can Enroll in Health Coverage

If you live in one of those states and are interested in applying for health insurance, you can also visit Healthcare.gov. Once you enter your zip code, you will have the option to be redirected to your state’s marketplace to purchase coverage. 

One Final Option

If you received health insurance coverage through your job but were recently laid off, you may have the option to sign up for COBRA plans, a program that allows eligible employees and their dependents to continue receiving health insurance benefits from their employer after losing their jobs. But COBRA is expensive; it requires you to pay what your employer used to contribute and cover the full premiums for your health insurance. COBRA costs an average of $20,000 per year for families, which will put it out of reach for many newly unemployed Americans.