By Linda Marsa
Your Situation: I've been laid off.*
If you've been laid off, you have the option to continue your employer-based coverage through COBRA, just as you did before health reform passed. This is your best bet for maintaining quality coverage, although it can be pricey. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act ("ARRA," or the "Stimulus Package") included subsidies to help people afford COBRA coverage, but Congress failed to pass legislation to extend those subsidies and they are no longer available for people laid off after May 31, 2010.
To see a complete picture of all your options, you can visit a new consumer-focused website, www.healthcare.gov, which displays coverage and care options by zip code. This website is commonly referred to as the Department of Health and Human Services' "Web Portal" and was created by the health reform law.
Starting in 2014, people who are laid off will still be able to opt for COBRA coverage, but they will also have the option of shopping for a health plan in the new health insurance exchanges. In the exchanges, plans will be standardized, covering specific benefits and meeting certain quality standards so that consumers know what they are getting. People who earn 400% of the federal poverty level ($88,200 for a family of four in 2010) or less will be able to receive help paying their premiums for coverage through the exchanges. And, they may also qualify for assistance paying for cost-sharing like deductibles and copayments, making coverage and care more affordable for families struggling with unemployment.
Finally, Medicaid, the public coverage program for low-income Americans, will have expanded eligibility starting by 2014. By 2014, if your family earns up to 133% of the federal poverty level ($29,327 for a family of four or $14,404 for an individual in 2010), you will be able to qualify for this program. Currently, most states have lower Medicaid eligibility levels for adults. With this broadened eligibility, health care services will be accessible and affordable for all low-income Americans.
*This information was updated in August 2010 by Families USA.