WICKLIFFE, Ohio — Open enrollment for healthcare through the Affordable Care Act just started, and there could be a surge of applicants. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, millions of Americans are out of work, and half of them are relying on their employer for coverage. Many are uninsured, or barely able to pay the costs. But there are options.
For five years, Jenne Oaks' crossing guard job help pay the bills. But last February, she became one of the 22 million people who lost their jobs in 2020. The following month, her husband lost his job with a local aerospace manufacturer, which led to their entire family going without health coverage.
"We looked at like, okay, can we get insurance? The first question is, well, do you have anything preexisting? I said, yeah, my husband's got heart issues. I have asthma," Oaks said. "And they say, 'forget it then. You're stuck.'"
They signed up for COBRA insurance, which temporarily extends your old coverage if you lose your job, but the cost was enough to make you sick. For the Oaks, nearly $2,000 a month.
"So that is a substantial hit. How you supposed to survive," Oaks asked. "Being 1857 you need health insurance. Plus you still have to live. You need groceries, you have to pay for your utilities."
Nearly half of the 10 million people still out of work due to the pandemic are either in a similar spot, or they have no insurance, because they were covered by their employer and can't afford the premiums on their own.
"We just finished doing our data for 2020, and we saw a 45 percent increase in the number of people who were uninsured coming to us for help," said Caitlin Donovan of the National Patient Advocacy Foundation, which helps those with chronic or severe health issues pay their bills.
Just like the NPAF, there are many groups right here in Ohio that offer free or low-cost care.
For those who don't qualify, there's Health Insurance Marketplace, which recently opened its three-month special enrollment period, as part of the Affordable Care Act.
Donovan says most people usually, "will be able to get really low monthly premiums and get coverage that will make sure that they're covered in case there's an emergency."
There are dozens of plans, which is good and bad, because choosing one can leave you with a headache.
"You're not going to have help," said Tim McNichols, Executive Director of Lighthouse Insurance Group. "You're going to have to go on that and kind of navigate it yourself, So you may not find it fun. Get somebody to help you."
Brokers or agents at companies like McNichols' can help you choose the right marketplace or private plan for free, because it's not just about monthly premiums.
McNichols says there are questions you should be asking when you're looking for a plan. "Do they offer things outside of general, like major medical? Are they going to be able to get you thinks like vision, dental or critical illness or even life insurance," he says. "What it is that you need is going to help determine the type of broker that you would go for."
But, whatever plan you choose, you should also apply for Medicare if you're eligible, and Medicaid. Some even qualify for help with their Marketplace plan.
"How many members are in your family? What's your income," McNichols asks. "All those kinds of factors come into place about where you would fall in that spectrum of being able to go to an ACA plan with a subsidy or go to something like a Medicaid."
Oaks' family is now on a private plan, a lifesaver in more ways than one.
"My husband had a pacemaker put in," she said "so he's doing much better now. After paying close to $1,900 (a month) for COBRA then paying half of what we're paying now, it's a big relief."
Finally, when looking for a plan, be on the lookout for scammers. A lot tend to pop up during open enrollment periods, but luckily, there are lots of tips on how to root out scammers. Don't respond to anyone trying to sell you insurance or asking for personal information to sign you up. You could end up with a plan that gives you little to no coverage, or even having your money or identity stolen.
Here's where to find low or no cost medical coverage:
How to spot a Healthcare Scam: