Health insurance is confusing. Between all the different options and all the lingo to grasp (deductible, premium, co-insurance, HMO, in-network… you know the story), up until now, you might have found it easier to just go along with whatever plan your employer offers without asking any questions. However, if you, like many others, depend on your employer’s health plan and suddenly find yourself without a job (a tough reality during a pandemic or economic crisis), you’re likely dealing with the loss of health insurance, too. The good news? There are options other than your employer’s plan. It can just take a little work to sort through all the information. 

If you’ve been let go of your job (or think you might be let go soon), review the below options, listed from the least to most expensive. 

Medicaid

This is a great place to start for everyone. If you’re finding yourself suddenly laid off or experiencing a reduction in hours, Medicaid is likely the most affordable option for you. Medicaid is the health insurance program for people with little or no income. While each state has its own set of specific guidelines in terms of qualifying for Medicaid, most state programs have zero premiums, which means you wouldn’t have to pay a fee to access coverage. One crucial step on what to do after losing your job is to check healthcare.gov to see if you’re eligible for Medicaid. The downside to Medicaid is that you’ll have to find new healthcare providers, and there are quite a few limits on the types of care the plan will cover. Doctor’s appointment? No problem. But there are certain types of visits and treatments that may be deemed experimental or unnecessary and therefore are not covered.

 Tip: Even if you don’t qualify for Medicaid, your child might still qualify for CHIP, a program offering low-cost healthcare to children (under the age of 19). You don’t have to wait for an enrollment period. Simply apply for the CHIP program at any time of the year. Pairing this with a marketplace plan for yourself could potentially save you some money.

 Other Group Health Plan Coverage

 Before you go looking at the marketplace, consider your family’s existing workplace coverage, if applicable. If your partner or spouse has an employer-provided healthcare plan, you might be able to be covered under their plan. Not married? Check to see if the coverage includes domestic partnerships. This is a clause that is becoming more and more popular among provider plans. It’s hard to say much regarding this option because a lot really depends on the plan your spouse or partner has. We will say that, in a lot of cases, the employer covers the cost for some portion of the coverage. The downside is that, like with Medicaid, you might have to find new doctors that are accepted in the provider’s network. While that might be a pain, it’s worth it to get the coverage you need after the loss of your job insurance and when sorting out what to do after losing your job.

Buy On The Marketplace

Maybe you’ve been told to “head to the marketplace”—and we’re not talking about the farmer’s market. The marketplace refers to a government platform where you can “shop” for individual or family coverage plans. There are a lot of options available to you through the marketplace after job health insurance loss. There are questions you can fill out to help narrow down the list to options that might be the best fit for your needs. While the marketplace has specific enrollment periods, sudden job or income loss are considered qualifying life events that allow you to enroll in a marketplace plan once your previous coverage runs out. Every state is different, so head to healthcare.gov to find out more about guidelines for signing up in your state. Again, there can be a lot of plans thrown your way in the marketplace. Some will be more expensive than others and the coverage will vary from plan to plan. If you’ve experienced job loss and loss of insurance as a result, you may qualify for subsidies to reduce premiums. However, getting a new plan might mean getting new doctors. Take the time to read through the different options before selecting the best one for you.

COBRA

Yes, we’re still taking health insurance, so for all the ophidiophobia (those with a fear of snakes) out there, you can take a deep breath. In healthcare, COBRA is a program that allows people who work for companies of 20 or more employees to continue to pay for their same coverage plan after they lose their job. COBRA ensures the option for continued coverage for you, your spouse, your former spouse, and any dependent children. While this option might be the most seamless in terms of keeping the same plan and providers, it’s definitely the most expensive option. Typically, when you are employed, most employers pay for a portion of premiums, however, once you are on COBRA, you are responsible for the entire cost… which can get expensive. There are also restrictions. This type of coverage is only available for up to 18 months from the loss of your original job insurance. After that, unless you have a new job with an employer-provided plan, it’s time for plan B.

 If you can afford it, this might be worth it for your situation, especially if you’re in the midst of receiving long-term treatment or care where disruption in care puts you at risk. If that’s the case, be sure to act ASAP. You only have 60 days from when you lose your job to sign up. If you think this might be a feasible option for you, check out this government resource for more answers to frequently asked COBRA-related questions.

Don’t Give Up and Don’t Wait 

The world of health insurance can be overwhelming and in times like these, the thought of going without some form of coverage is even more overwhelming. You don’t want to find yourself facing barriers to get the care you need. Even worse? Being haunted by medical debt if something ever happened. The best way to combat these fears and outcomes is to explore your options right away after the loss of your job and insurance. There’s no need to wait until you have a new job to get new coverage. Start today. Do the work, fill out the forms, read about your options, and ask for help when you need it. Chances are, you know someone who is in the same boat as you or has been through this before. You’re not alone.