Uninsured or unemployed? You might miss out on free health insurance
A special registration period ends on August 15th. Here’s how to sign up.
By Selena Simmons-Duffin / NPR
If you’re uninsured or have been on unemployment benefits this year, new financial aid – passed by Congress earlier this year – means you may be eligible for free health insurance.
A special registration period set up by the Biden administration ends August 15, consumers will therefore need to act quickly to subscribe to any of these plans in the Affordable Care Act markets.
Health plans without monthly premiums come in several different flavors, some of which have been around for a while and others are new.
There is Medicaid, which is the federal public plan for low income people. And on Healthcare.gov and state markets there are free “bronze plansâ- the lowest level of plans – which might be available with zero dollar premiums depending on your income. Both were options for years.
Now there is also a new free plan option open to a new category of people. The American rescue plan included a lot of changes to help make enrollment easier and more affordable, including new, more generous premium grants, cost-sharing support for low-income people, and more.
A major change: if you have received unemployment benefits at any time this year you could qualify for a very comprehensive money plan until the end of 2021.
Put it all together? There are no-cost premium plans available for nearly half of the 29 million uninsured Americans. Yet surprisingly few have signed up.
“There are millions of people who miss out on free health insurance,” explains Cynthia cox, program director on ACA at the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation, who is the author of a recent brief on the subject. âThis free health insurance – most of the time – also comes with very low deductibles. So very often people could have all – or the vast majority – of their health care costs paid for. “
Why would so many people pass up the chance to get free health coverage?
âI always hear all the time that people have no idea this was an option,â says Jeremy Smith, health insurance navigator at the nonprofit. Premium services in West Virginia. Browsers give free advice to people who want to join ACA plans.
Bad experiences trying to enroll in the past, or plans with high fees and deductibles might have turned people off, Smith says. Even though many plans are available with zero premiums, some may still have others. reimbursable expenses to know.
He finds that most of the people he signs up still pay something every month, but it really varies. âFor a family, it might be a good idea to take out the zero dollar plan which has a slightly higher deductible,â he says. “The following [family] can dig and they may be willing to pay $ 100 per month if that means their deductible is lower and their co-pay is lower.
Still, he thinks a lot of people are missing. âEven though everyone is trying to go out of their way to say that there are these new options, a lot of people just think they don’t qualify, so they don’t look into it,â Smith says.
Inertia is also a powerful force, explains Louise Norris, co-owner of an insurance brokerage in Colorado. Or maybe people are worried about the documentation or need to do complicated choices.
âThere are so many little reasons someone might hesitate, and when you put them all together, you end up with at least a few million people leaving these perks on the table,â says Norris.
New people have signed up on Healthcare.gov and State Markets. The latest report from the Biden-Harris administration showed two million new people signed up for health plans, although it’s not clear how many of them signed up for any of these free plan options.
Even with these affordable options, years of reduced budgets for awareness under the Trump administration has had an impact on the number of people who know the insurance market, says Katie Roders Turner, navigator for the Family Healthcare Foundation in central Florida.
âOver the past four years, there was this information vacuum – and misinformation on top of that,â she says. “I think it’s a lack of knowledge and I think a marketing response is really going to make a big difference.”
The Biden administration has been making efforts to market the plans and try to publicize the fact that registration is now open and new discounts are available. It broadcasts digital and television ads and publishes community toolkits.
KFF’s Cynthia Cox says awareness is needed, not only to tell people that the plans exist and that they’re more affordable now, but also to explain the value of health insurance, even if it’s not a foreground plan.
â100% of the time, if you can get a free bronze plan, you better be uninsured,â she explains. Some consumers are put off by high deductibles – the amount you would have to pay for all the health care you use before your insurance plan takes note. But even a high deductible plan is better than no coverage, she says.
âIf you get hit by a bus or have COVID and need hospitalization, that’s the difference between a debt of $ 7,000 and a debt of $ 50,000,â she explains. âIt can make the difference between keeping your car or not, or keeping your house or not,â she adds. “It’s a big difference.”
As of August 1, one of the people who have a free plan is Deborah Kagan. She just moved from New York State – where she was on Medicaid after being fired during the pandemic – to Florida, where she is not eligible for Medicaid. She was extremely stressed about the move and the loss of coverage, especially because she has type 1 diabetes.
âWithout my medication, I died,â she explains. “And during COVID, I also found out that I had breast cancer and a brain tumor and it was just one thing after another.”
Because she was on unemployment benefits, a navigator from the Family Healthcare Foundation accompanied her to sign up for a free money plan that will cover most of her health costs for the rest of the year.
The browsers âknew everything – all the updates – and walked me every step of the way and were more than helpful,â she says. Having a free plan online, she says, is “a huge relief and it will help me focus on finding a job quickly.”