Uninsured or unemployed? You Could Miss Free Health Insurance: Shots


A special open enrollment period in all Affordable Care Act markets, including the federal insurance exchange, Healthcare.gov, runs until August 15. Many people qualify for free or low cost plans.

Healthcare.gov/Screenshot by NPR

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Healthcare.gov/Screenshot by NPR

A special open enrollment period in all Affordable Care Act markets, including the federal insurance exchange, Healthcare.gov, runs until August 15. Many people qualify for free or low cost plans.

Healthcare.gov/Screenshot by NPR

If you’re uninsured or collecting unemployment benefits this year, new financial aid – passed by Congress earlier this year – means you may be eligible for free health insurance.

A special enrollment period put in place by the Biden administration ends on August 15, so consumers will need to act quickly to enroll in any of these plans in the Affordable Care Act markets.

Health plans without monthly premiums come in several different flavors, some of which have been around for a while and others are new.

There is Medicaid, which is the federal public plan for low income people. And, on Healthcare.gov and the State Markets, there are free “bronze plans” – the lowest tier of plans – that may be available with zero dollar premiums depending on your income. Both have been options for years.

Now there is also a new free plan option open to a new category of people. The US bailout included many changes to make enrollment easier and more affordable, including new, more generous grants for bonuses, cost-sharing support for low-income people, and more.

A major change: If you’ve received unemployment benefits at some point this year, you could be eligible for a very comprehensive money plan until the end of 2021.

Put it all together? There are no-cost premium plans available for nearly half of the 29 million uninsured Americans. Yet surprisingly few have signed up.

“There are millions of people who miss out on free health insurance,” says Cynthia Cox, director of the ACA program at the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation, who wrote a recent brief on the subject. . “This free health insurance – most of the time – also comes with very low deductibles. So most of the time people could get paid for all – or the vast majority – of their health care costs.”

Why would so many people pass up the chance to get free health coverage?

“I always hear all the time that people have no idea this was an option,” says Jeremy Smith, health insurance navigator at the nonprofit First Choice Services in West Virginia. Mariners give free advice to people who want to subscribe to ACA plans.

Bad experiences trying to enroll in the past, or plans with high fees and deductibles might have turned people off, Smith says. Even though many plans are available with zero dollar premiums, some may still have other out-of-pocket costs to be aware of.

He finds that most of the people he signs up still pay something every month, but it really varies. “For a family, it might be wise to take the zero dollar plan which has a slightly higher deductible,” he says. “The following [family] can dig and they may be willing to pay $ 100 per month if that means their deductible is lower and their co-pay is lower. “

Still, he thinks a lot of people are missing. “Even though everyone is trying to do everything they can to say that there are these new options, a lot of people just think they don’t qualify, so they don’t look at them,” Smith said. .

Inertia is also a powerful force, explains Louise Norris, co-owner of an insurance brokerage in Colorado. Or maybe people are concerned about the documentation or have to make complicated choices.

“There are so many little reasons why someone might hesitate, and when you put them all together, you end up with at least a few million people leaving these perks on the table,” says Norris.

New people have signed up on Healthcare.gov and State Markets. The latest Biden-Harris administration report showed two million new people signed up for health plans, though it’s not clear how many signed up for any of these options. free plan.

Even with these affordable options, years of reduced awareness budgets under the Trump administration have had an impact on the number of people in the know about the insurance market, says Katie Roders Turner, Navigator for the Family Healthcare Foundation in the central Florida.

“Over the past four years, there has been this information vacuum – and misinformation on top of that,” she says. “I think it’s a lack of knowledge and I think a marketing response is really going to make a big difference.”

The Biden administration has been making efforts to market the plans and try to publicize the fact that registration is now open and new discounts are available. It broadcasts digital and television ads and publishes community toolkits.

KFF’s Cynthia Cox says awareness is needed, not only to tell people that the plans exist and that they’re more affordable now, but also to explain the value of health insurance, even if it’s not a foreground plan.

“100% of the time, if you can get a free bronze plan, you better be uninsured,” she explains. Some consumers are put off by high deductibles – the amount you would have to pay for all the health care you use before your insurance plan takes note. But even a high deductible plan is better than no coverage, she says.

“If you get hit by a bus or have COVID and need hospitalization, that’s the difference between a debt of $ 7,000 and a debt of $ 50,000,” she explains. “It can make the difference between keeping your car or not, or keeping your house or not,” she adds. “It’s a big difference.”

As of August 1, one of the people who have a free plan is Deborah Kagan. She just moved from New York State – where she was on Medicaid after being fired during the pandemic – to Florida, where she is not eligible for Medicaid. She was extremely stressed about the move and the loss of coverage, especially because she has type 1 diabetes.

“Without my medication, I died,” she explains. “And during COVID, I also found out that I had breast cancer and a brain tumor and it was just one thing after another.”

Because she was on unemployment benefits, a navigator from the Family Healthcare Foundation accompanied her to sign up for a free money plan that will cover most of her health costs for the rest of the year.

The browsers “knew everything – all the updates – and walked me every step of the way and were more than helpful,” she says. Having a free plan online, she says, is “a huge relief and it will help me focus on finding a job quickly.”

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