Q&A: If you lost your job, here’s how to find free health insurance

Dear Liz: I have read that the unemployed can qualify for free health insurance through the Affordable Care Act exchanges. I’m trying to confirm whether my state, which did not accept expanded Medicaid coverage, is offering this to its residents. My position was eliminated with no warning because of the pandemic and I’m finding Healthcare.gov rather convoluted to navigate.

Answer: It may be July before the ACA exchanges reflect the extra tax credits that will make comprehensive health insurance free for anyone who receives unemployment benefits in 2021.

Some of the health insurance changes authorized by the American Rescue Plan, which President Biden signed in March, went into effect April 1. Those included providing larger tax credits that lowered costs for most people who buy health insurance on the exchanges and increasing the number of people who qualify for those premium-reducing credits.

In the past, people with incomes above 400% of the poverty line typically didn’t qualify for subsidies that lowered their costs, but now people with incomes up to 600% of the poverty line — up to $76,560 for a single person or $157,200 for a family of four — can qualify, according to medical research organization KFF (formerly Kaiser Family Foundation). The law also created a new special enrollment period that extends through Aug. 15, 2021.

The exchanges have been slower to reflect the increased tax credits for people who receive unemployment benefits at any point during 2021. These credits will effectively allow those who don’t have access to other group coverage to qualify for a free silver plan with a $177 deductible. The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has promised that the credits “will be available starting this summer.”

You shouldn’t be without health insurance, so you could sign up for coverage now and update your information when the increased tax credits become available.

But you may have another option. The American Rescue Plan also requires employers to provide free COBRA coverage from April 1 through Sept. 30 to eligible former employees who lost their healthcare coverage because of involuntary termination or a reduction in hours. (Employers will get a federal tax credit to cover their costs.)

Even if you turned down COBRA coverage when you lost your job — as many people do because it’s so expensive — you could still get free coverage if it hasn’t been more than 18 months since you lost your job. Employers are required to notify eligible former employees by May 31. If you haven’t heard from yours by then but think you’re eligible, reach out to the company’s human resources department.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: What to do if your refund is delayed and your bills aren’t. Also in the news: Former Simple customers undergo a rough transition to BBVA, why a credit card’s looks aren’t everything, and how to keep health insurance after losing your job.

What to Do If Your Refund Is Delayed and Your Bills Aren’t
The IRS is running behind.

Former Simple Customers Undergo Rough Transition to BBVA
Things haven’t gone smoothly.

Why a Credit Card’s Looks Aren’t Everything

How to Keep Health Insurance After Losing Your Job
A look at the options.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: You may qualify for free or cheaper health insurance now. Also in the news: Big banks join effort to ease path to credit cards, 3 ways technology can help minority-owned businesses recover, and the 12 states ending the extra $300 per week in unemployment benefits.

You May Qualify for Free or Cheaper Health Insurance Now
The latest coronavirus relief package made health insurance free or significantly less costly for millions of people.

Big Banks Join Efforts to Ease Path to Credit Cards
Large lenders are participating in a pilot program allowing them to share bank account information with the credit bureaus, easing access for credit card applicants.

3 Ways Technology Can Help Minority-Owned Businesses Recover
Start by embracing e-commerce.

These 12 States Are Ending the Extra $300 Per Week in Unemployment Benefits
Find out if yours is one of them.

You may be entitled to free health insurance now

The latest coronavirus relief package did more than dole out $1,400 checks. The law also made health insurance free for millions more people and reduced costs for others, at least for now.

The American Rescue Plan, which President Joe Biden signed in March, expanded subsidies for people buying their own insurance on Affordable Care Act exchanges. In addition, anyone who receives unemployment benefits this year can qualify for zero-premium health insurance through the exchanges, regardless of income.

In my latest for the Associated Press, find out if you qualify for free health insurance.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How insurance fraud costs you money. Also in the news: A new episode of the Smart Money podcast on lottery winners and what to do with extra COVID cash, how to decide if your first house should be a condo, and how to choose your ACA plan.

How Insurance Fraud Costs You Money
Insurance fraud adds an extra $400 to $700 to your premiums every year and costs about $80 billion overall.

Smart Money Podcast: Jackpot Windfall and Extra COVID Cash

Should Your First House Be a Condo?
A condo can make a great starter home, but weigh the pros and cons of buying a condo vs. a house to decide whether it’s right for you.

How to Choose Your Obamacare Plan
Finding the right amount of coverage.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Why student loan borrowers shouldn’t wait on Congress for more relief. Also in the news: A new episode of the SmartMoney podcast on safe travel and handling old debts, how to make sure a contract tracer isn’t a scammer, and what to do if your health insurance drops your monthly prescription.

Smart Money Podcast: How to Travel Safely, and How to Handle Old Debts
Traveling take caution.

Student Loan Borrowers: Don’t Wait on Congress for More Relief
Don’t hold your breath.

How to make sure a contract tracer isn’t a scammer
https://www.marketwatch.com/story/you-get-a-call-that-youve-been-exposed-to-coronavirus-how-to-make-sure-a-contract-tracer-isnt-a-scammer-2020-08-03
Here’s what to look for, and what a legitimate contract tracer will never ask you

What to Do if Your Health Insurance Drops Your Monthly Prescription
Looking at your options.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Smart money moves when cash is tighter than time. Also in the news: A new episode of the SmartMoney podcast on losing your health insurance and setting financial goals, how a gap year might haunt you financially, and how to boost your credit score with on-time Netflix payments.

Smart Money Moves When Cash Is Tighter Than Time
A lot of extra time on our hands, but not extra cash.

Smart Money Podcast: Losing Your Health Insurance, and Setting Financial Goals
Putting your health first.

How a Gap Year Might Haunt You Financially
It could cost you up to $90K in the long run.

Boost Your Credit Score With On-Time Netflix Payments
Your binge watching could boost your credit score.

Q&A: How Medicare, COBRA interact

Dear Liz: You recently wrote about how Medicare coverage interacts with employer coverage. My husband will retire next year at age 65. His company has over 20 employees, so it’s considered a large company plan that won’t require him to sign up for Medicare. Is it better for him to elect family COBRA coverage for 36 months and defer Medicare coverage, since his company healthcare plan will be superior to Medicare? Can he elect Medicare coverage once COBRA terminates? Coverage matters more than costs.

Answer: He shouldn’t put off signing up for Medicare, because COBRA won’t insulate him from penalties.

The previous column mentioned that Medicare Part A, which covers hospital visits, is usually premium-free, but people generally pay premiums for Medicare Part B, which covers doctor’s visits, and Medicare Part D, which covers prescription drugs.

Failing to sign up when you’re first eligible for Part B and Part D typically means incurring permanent penalties that can be substantial. You can avoid the penalties if you’re covered by a large employer health insurance plan — but that plan must be as a result of current employment, either yours or your spouse’s. Once your husband retires, his employment is no longer current, so he should sign up for Medicare to avoid penalties.

If you or any other dependents need coverage, he may end up paying for additional insurance through COBRA on top of what he pays for Medicare. He can have both COBRA and Medicare for himself if his Medicare benefits become effective on or before the day he elects COBRA coverage. If he starts Medicare after he signs up for COBRA, his COBRA benefits would cease but coverage for you and any dependent children could be extended for up to 36 months. Another option to consider would be to cover you and any dependents using a plan from an Affordable Care Act marketplace. You may want to discuss your options with an insurance agent before deciding.

In fact, getting expert opinions is a must, because Medicare rules and health insurance in general can be so complex. Anyone nearing 65 also would be smart to discuss their individual situations with their company’s human resources department and then confirm the information with Medicare before deciding when and how to sign up.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: What to do if your parents need financial help. Also in the news: Why no new debt is the best holiday gift to your family, AmEx cardholders report account shutdowns, and why you should get a health insurance cost estimate even if you’re not buying coverage.

What to Do If Your Parents Need Financial Help
Balancing your needs with theirs.

The Best Holiday Gift to Your Family? No New Debt
The gift that won’t keep on taking.

AmEx Cardholders Report Account Shutdowns
Self-referrals appear to be the culprit.

Get a Health Insurance Cost Estimate Even If You’re Not Buying Coverage
You could be eligible for a subsidy.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: You owe interest on a 0% APR credit card. How did that happen? Also in the news: How to choose the right health plan, how to win big on Black Friday, and how your travel plans affect which Medicare coverage you should choose.

You Owe Interest on a 0% APR Credit Card. How Did That Happen?
Could be several reasons.

How to Choose the Right Health Plan
Happy Open Enrollment season!

Win Big on Black Friday by Buying This — and Not That
Creating a Black Friday strategy.

How your travel plans affect which Medicare coverage you should choose
Yes, you read that correctly.