If you’re laid off, you can still buy health insurance on the marketplaces set up by the Affordable Care Act, even though it’s outside the annual open enrollment period.
You qualify if you have lost your health coverage through your employer or the employer of a family member in the last 60 days or you expect this to happen in the next 60 days.
“If you lose your coverage then you’re entitled to a special enrollment period,” said Karen Politz, a senior fellow at the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit that focuses on national health issues. “The loss of health coverage is a qualifying life event.”
To enroll, go to HealthCare.gov and answer questions to see if you’re eligible for coverage. You may even qualify for federal financial help depending on your income for the year.
Getting financial help
There are two types of financial assistance the government provides, depending on how much you project to make in income this year.
If you expect to earn between 100% and 400% of the poverty level, you may qualify for the premium tax credit, meaning the federal government will help pay the premium. You can apply some or all of your tax credit to your monthly insurance premium payments to reduce how much you pay yourself.
“You always have to pay something for marketplace coverage,” Politz said. “But depending on how low your income is, it may only be like $20 to $30 a month.”
Additionally, if your income is 100% to 250% of the poverty level, you may be eligible for cost-sharing reductions. These reductions lower your deductible, copays, coinsurance, and out-of-pocket maximum. But you only get those extra savings if you pick a silver plan in the marketplace.
How to apply
Start by going to HealthCare.gov and filling out the questions to understand if you’re eligible for the special enrollment period. You’ll see a selection of health insurance plans and estimated prices. You get the actual price after filling out the marketplace application.
For the marketplace application, you’ll need information about:
Your household size
Income information from your most recent pay stubs and W-2 form
An estimate of your household income
Information on how you file your taxes
Social Security numbers (SSNs) and birth dates of everyone applying for the coverage
Policy numbers and information about your old health coverage plan
You may also be asked to prove that you will lose your employer-based coverage in the near term as well as your expected annual income after the job loss.This could be a letter from an insurance company, employer, COBRA coverage, or pay stubs.
The marketplace insurance may cover retroactive expenses, but it does not start the day you lost your original health coverage. Instead, it’s retroactive to the first day of the month after your job-based insurance ended.
Other sign-up websites
Nevada is the first state to administer its own health insurance exchange that is tailored to its residents. Nevada residents can enroll this year at nevadahealthlink.com.
Americans can also enroll for ACA through private websites operated by an insurance company or a web broker. You can even conduct an eligibility determination on some of these sites to check if you qualify for financial assistance. Previously, only HealthCare.gov could do that.
People should pay close attention when using these private sites, Pollitz said. They may or may not show all the available marketplace plans. These sites can also sell other plans – like short-term policies – that don't adhere to ACA rules.
These non-compliant plans “are not supposed to be shown on the same screen as the marketplace policies,” Pollitz said. “But if you're not careful, you may end up looking at a bunch of cheaper plans that are short-term health insurance plans instead.”
Denitsa is a reporter for Yahoo Finance and Cashay, a new personal finance website. Follow her on Twitter @denitsa_tsekova.
Read more on the topic from our Healthcare section