coronavirus pandemic

Fired or Furloughed: What Happens With Health Insurance?

NBC 7 Responds looks at the health insurance options for people who have lost their job

NBCUniversal, Inc.

Hundreds of thousands of San Diegans have lost their jobs because of the coronavirus pandemic. Many people rely on their job for health insurance, so what are your options if you are laid off?

"We're getting that question literally every day," said Craig Gussin, a local health insurance agent. "If you're furloughed you can stay on the company's insurance policy. If you're fired, you cannot."

A recent study by the Urban Institute estimated up to 4 million people in California may lose their job-based health insurance if our state unemployment rate hits 25%.

Gussin said if you are laid off, there is a way to keep your current policy through a program called COBRA. It is also the most expensive option because you now have to pay the amount your employer used to pay.

If you are eligible, you can turn to MediCal. To qualify you must make less than $17,000 a year, or $35,000 for a family of four. If you are 65 or older, you can also qualify for Medicare. Gussin says a fourth option is Covered California.

"Covered California has a special enrollment through June 30th that basically anybody can sign up for," said Gussin.

Covered California helps to subsidize your monthly premium based on your current income, including unemployment benefits. That means you might not qualify for a subsidy if you get a new job that pays better.

"In most situations, it's always cheaper for Covered California, but you have that risk," Gussin said. "Covered California will send a letter saying you should not have received the subsidy for those months, you owe us that money back."

As for what type of insurance policy you should look for? Gussin said if you are looking for the best deal, look for an HMO. He also said to make sure any new insurance policy will cover your needs.

"For the person who doesn't go to the doctor a lot, it's pretty easy," Gussin said. "But for the person with a medical condition, a family, prescriptions, it's a bigger deal."

Gussin said he knows it is a stressful time, but there is help if you have lost your health insurance.

"Half my time is trying to educate and teach them and say, 'it's not that bad. We can find something that will work for you, don't freak out,'" he said.

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