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What to do if you lost your health insurance due to COVID-19 layoffs

Thousands of people are without jobs and health insurance following statewide layoffs. One local family shares their journey.

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Thousands of Pennsylvanians are settling into a new routine after losing their jobs following the statewide shutdown of “non-essential” businesses.

Last week, Sherman Seibert was a working dad. His wife Amy homeschooled their three young children. Their situation abruptly changed in the blink of an eye.

“In the last 24 hours, we learned that my husband will no longer have health insurance,” said Amy Seibert.

This is the 'new normal' for the Seibert family after Sherman was laid off. Due to the coronavirus, the job loss was expected. What came next, was not.

“When we called, we asked them last week and said, “Are you able to provide health insurance and when does the policy end?” They said April 30th,” Amy explained.

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On March 30th, Sherman received his formal termination letter in the mail. He said the letter stated his health insurance coverage would end the very next day. The family is left scrambling.  

“I mean, we’re scared,” said Amy. “What if he should fall ill with the virus? What do we do? We knew that it was a risk that the job loss could be possible, but we didn’t have any idea that his health insurance could be terminated so quickly.”

Millions of other families are now lost without healthcare coverage during a global pandemic. Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner Jessica Altman said her office is here to help.

“If you lose insurance, you can still get the special enrollment period,” said Altman.

Health insurance options if you are laid off:

- You can keep your same coverage under your employer’s plan with COBRA insurance. However, COBRA premiums can be expensive because you will have to foot the entire bill yourself. You can use funds from a health savings account to pay for COBRA premiums.

- You are eligible for special enrollment through the state-based exchange program, or the marketplace, under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Coverage takes effect the 1st of the next month after you apply.

- If you buy insurance through ACA, a drop in income could mean you quality for tax credits that can lower your monthly premiums. Commissioner Altman said over 80% of Pennsylvanians who currently use the marketplace for their health insurance coverage receive financial assistance.

- It is possible for some employers to offer subsidized COBRA coverage for a period of time. It doesn’t hurt to ask.

How to keep your health insurance if you are furloughed: 

- Employers generally keep your health benefits during temporary leave. However, this varies state-by-state. When asked about Pennsylvania rules, Commissioner Altman said, “I would want to check on the details of different classifications of furloughs versus leave without pay in order to best answer that question. For the marketplace, what matters is not what your employment status is. What matters is do you have health insurance or did you lose health insurance coverage.”

- You are eligible to file for unemployment without it affecting your health benefits.

- You are still responsible for required monthly contributions and out-of-pocket costs.

Families like the Seibert's need coverage now, and insurance from the state marketplace would not take effect until at least April 1st. Commissioner Altman said this is a concern her office is addressing.

“One thing that state regulators, like myself and others, have been talking to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) about is can there be some more flexibility to let people get coverage right away. But right now, that is how the federal marketplace works,” explained Commissioner Altman.

Meanwhile, the Seibert's are hoping to earn income through a new family business called Seibert Mechanical.

“But, it’s tough. You can only do emergency calls,” said Sherman.

In these uncertain times, all they can do is wait and hope.

“Maybe there is something in place right now to help us that we’re just not aware that we can help make others in our position aware of,” hoped Amy.

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