By Abby Block:
Many of the nearly 73,000 Fairfax County residents who applied for unemployment insurance between mid-March and mid-May have most likely lost their employer-supplied insurance or were already uninsured and are facing hardship paying premiums.
What are the options available for them, and all uninsured residents?
First, regarding coronavirus, testing and treatment is available free or based on a sliding payment schedule through local service organizations such as Health Works –click here or call (703)443-2000 — or Neighborhood Health – click here or call (703)535-5568).
Additional information on coronavirus testing and treatment is available on the websites of the Virginia Department of Health (vdh.virginia.gov) and Fairfax County Health Department. These organizations are also resources for non-virus related medical issues.
For those already enrolled in an Affordable Care Act Marketplace plan, the change in income resulting from a job loss should be reported through Healthcare.gov because it could result in subsidy increases.
For those who lose employer-based coverage, typically on the last day of the month of termination, they are covered by a special enrollment period that allows them to enroll in a Marketplace plan for up to 60 days after their employment termination. Go to Healthcare.gov to enroll.
Subsidies are based on estimated annual family income and family size. Economic impact payments from the IRS (e.g. those $1,200 CARE Act payments) do not count in the calculation of subsidy eligibility, but unemployment insurance benefits are taxable income and will be part of the calculation.
Job loss might also result in eligibility for Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Go to Healthcare.gov for information on these programs as well.
Other options for those who lose employer-based coverage include enrolling in a spouse’s plan if one is available or continuing for up to 18 months under the former employer’s group plan through COBRA. However, both may be costly because of the way premiums are calculated.
In the case of a spouse’s plan, the employer contribution for family coverage may be a lesser percentage than for an employee only. Regarding COBRA, since there is no longer any employer contribution, the enrollee pays the entire premium plus an administrative fee.
Attaining access to healthcare services while uninsured is challenging at best. The challenge and the ensuing stress is exacerbated when the country, and in fact the entire world, is engulfed in a major medical crisis. Yet it is worth taking the time and effort to explore the resources available nationally, in Northern Virginia, and specifically in Fairfax County. They can provide guidance and/or services for both virus specific and other medical needs.
Abby Block served in the federal government as a health benefits program manager and as an executive advisor to a consulting firm. She is a member of Mason District Democratic Committee
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