What to do for health coverage if you’ve lost your job in NJ
Although the federal health insurance marketplace has not been reopened for a special enrollment period, as New Jersey and other states suggested, people who lose their jobs and employer-sponsored health plans are allowed to sign up for coverage.
People may be eligible for tax credits to help afford a plan, depending on their income. And the state’s Medicaid program, NJ FamilyCare, is available year-round for those who are income-eligible.
More than 362,000 people filed new unemployment claims in the second half of March, far beyond previous records. For many that has meant a loss of health coverage, as 70% of New Jerseyans have employer-sponsored health insurance, said Marua Collinsgru, health care program director for New Jersey Citizen Action.
“Those who have had coverage through their employer, many people have been in that position for a number of years are often not aware what they can do or where they can turn if they cannot continue their coverage through their employer either because it’s not longer available or it’s not affordable to them to carry through COBRA,” Collinsgru said.
“We wanted people to know that the Affordable Care Act does provide a special enrollment period for those who experience life-changing events like the loss of a job that results in the loss of health-care coverage,” said Collinsgru, who said people have a 60-day window to re-enter the marketplace.
Human Services Commissioner Carole Johnson said the state is ready to help people enroll in Medicaid coverage who’ve never needed to consider it.
“So many people who are facing extremely difficult economic circumstances of a result of this outbreak have never experienced this kind of disruption in their health insurance before,” Johnson said. “So it can very disconcerting and very challenging to know what your options are.”
Johnson said that while people who lost their jobs get special access to the marketplace, the Murphy administration had sought a sign-up period for everyone, including the more than 500,000 residents who lacked health coverage before the pandemic.
“For those many New Jerseyans who have been uninsured and are now critically aware of their health-care issues and needs, this is a moment when they should have access to affordable health coverage through healthcare.gov, through the federal marketplace,” Johnson said.
“If we had our own state-based exchange, when we have our own state-based exchange, we’ll be able to make these decisions for ourselves,” she said.
Johnson said the state has put a moratorium on terminating coverage for any current Medicaid enrollees, is providing no-cost testing and treatment for COVID-19, and has waived premiums and allowed greater flexibility to increase the number of service providers and locations.
Ward Sanders, president of the New Jersey Association of Health Plans, said health insurers have also made changes to address the pandemic, such as full coverage for testing and treatment and providing access to telehealth with no cost sharing.
“Some carriers have recently stepped out to not enforce the ‘active at work’ requirements. Normally to maintain coverage with an employer, if you are furloughed and not active at work, you’re generally not eligible to continue as employee,” Sanders said. “But some plans have stepped out to waive that.”
Johnson said if a person applies for NJ FamilyCare after being laid off despite having earned too much money in the previous month to appear to qualify, the state will inquire about the status of their unemployment insurance to determine if they’re eligible.
“We really hope that people who need coverage come to us because it’s critically important at this time to have health coverage,” she said. “The reason it’s here is to be available for individuals and families when they need it. So we would encourage people to come to FamilyCare because that’s why it’s here.”
Collinsgru said Citizen Action’s goal is to reduce confusion about health-care options.
“Our experience has been people don’t know what they don’t need to know,” she said. “Many people have never had to consider getting coverage on their own outside of their jobs, and the message we want people to know is not only are there options out there but there are good ones.”
Collinsgru said NJ FamilyCare provides “robust coverage” for essential benefits such as mental health, substance abuse disorders, physical health, hospitalizations and pharmacy.
“It is really a complete package and ensures that people in this time will have one less thing to worry about as they try to navigate some really unprecedented circumstances,” she said.
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Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.