Updated: 2020-08-31 by
During this time of record unemployment, many people have lost not only their jobs, but health insurance, too. (Between February and May of 2020, an estimated 5.4 million people became uninsured because of job losses during the coronavirus pandemic.)
If you've suffered the dual blow of losing employment and your insurance, the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) may offer relief in the form of readily available, affordable coverage. Usually, you must sign up during an open enrollment period. But leaving your job and losing job-based health insurance makes you eligible for special enrollment; you'll have 60 days to sign up for a new health plan.
All plans available through the marketplace offer essential medical benefits, including preventive care, emergency services, and prescription drug coverage. You can't be turned away if you have a pre-existing medical condition and, because you're not working, you'll probably qualify for significant cost-saving subsidies.
When you sign up for a health plan under the ACA, your coverage can start within a few weeks.
Here's an overview of your options for health insurance if you are unemployed, plus more information about what might happen if you don't get health coverage. (If you're looking for information about applying or eligibility for unemployment, see our articles on Texas unemployment benefits.)
Health Insurance Options for the Unemployed
Marketplace insurance plans. As mentioned above, you can go to Healthcare.gov to compare features and costs for a variety of insurance plans. Because you are unemployed, you will probably qualify for tax credits to lower your monthly premiums, based on your income and family size. If your income is very low, you may end up paying very little -- or nothing at all -- for coverage. For more information, see the additional resources listed below.
COBRA. If you’ve just left a job, the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) usually allows you to keep your employer-sponsored coverage for up to 18 months. This benefit is notoriously expensive, however, because you have to pay the full premium plus an administrative fee; your former employer contributes nothing. Before you lock yourself into COBRA coverage, you may want to compare costs with plans offered at Healthcare.gov.
You'll have 60 days to elect COBRA coverage or buy a new health plan through the marketplace. If you miss the 60-day deadline, you'll have to wait for the next open enrollment period to buy a marketplace plan. You won't be able to choose COBRA after the 60-day special enrollment period ends.
If you do choose COBRA coverage, you'll get another 60-day special enrollment period after your COBRA coverage ends; this gives you time to switch to an individual insurance plan if you choose to do so.
Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). These government sponsored programs provide free or very low-cost coverage to millions of Americans with limited incomes. You can learn the coverage thresholds and apply for these programs through Texas's Medicaid or Texas CHIP office, or find out whether you are eligible when you fill out an application at Healthcare.gov.
Your spouse's job-based insurance. If you're married or in a registered domestic partnership, your partner’s job-based insurance plan may be a good option. But some may find that the premium costs are too steep. If coverage through your spouse’s plan is out of reach, you can explore new options for more affordable insurance through Healthcare.gov.
Note that if coverage available to you through your spouse’s plan is considered "affordable" under the ACA, but you don’t sign up for it, you won’t qualify for cost-saving subsidies on a marketplace plan. Generally, an employer-sponsored plan is considered "affordable" if the annual cost for employee-only coverage is no more than 9.5% of your annual household income. Healthcare.gov offers guidance and tools to help you determine whether a job-based health insurance plan is considered affordable under the law.
Other private insurance plans. You may purchase a private health insurance plan outside of the marketplace, either directly from an insurance company or through a broker. If you go this route, compare your options carefully (including a visit to EXCHANGE) to be sure you're getting full coverage at the best available price.
What About the Tax Penalty?
For most people, the tax penalty for going without health insurance disappeared in 2019. But this is not true in a handful of states. If you live in a state that requires you to have health insurance or pay a tax penalty, unemployment may not get you out of that requirement. However, if your income drops below a certain level, you won't have to pay. Currently, Texas does not require health insurance. To find out more about the status of the tax penalty in your state, see Do I Have to Get Obamacare in Texas?
To learn more about how much you may have to pay for health insurance, see How Much Does Obamacare Cost in Texas?
To find out about cost-saving subsidies, see Ways to Save Money on Obamacare in Texas.
If you want to apply for coverage, see How Do I Sign Up for Obamacare in Texas?
For information about applying for unemployment, see How Do I Apply for Unemployment Benefits in Texas.
To learn whether you qualify for unemployment benefits, see Who Is Eligible for Unemployment Benefits in Texas.
You may also be interested in:
Where to go in Texas to get health plans under the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and how to get help with the application process.
Essential facts about the Affordable Care Act (ACA or Obamacare) in Texas, including whether you must get health insurance, how much it will cost, and how you can save money.
What sole proprietors and independent contractors in Texas should know about health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).