1st deadlines for laid-off workers to get health insurance

FILE - This file image provided by U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Service shows the website for HealthCare.gov. Many laid-off workers who lost health insurance in the coronavirus shutdown soon face the first deadlines to qualify for fallback coverage under the Affordable Care Act. (U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Service via AP, File)
FILE - This file image provided by U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Service shows the website for HealthCare.gov. Many laid-off workers who lost health insurance in the coronavirus shutdown soon face the first deadlines to qualify for fallback coverage under the Affordable Care Act. (U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Service via AP, File)

WASHINGTON – Many laid-off workers who lost health insurance in the coronavirus shutdown soon face the first deadlines to qualify for fallback coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

Taxpayer-subsidized health insurance is available for a modest cost — sometimes even free — across the country, but industry officials and independent researchers say few people seem to know how to find it. For those who lost their health insurance as layoffs mounted in late March, a 60-day “special enrollment” period for individual coverage under the ACA closes at the end of May in most states.

Altheia Franklin, who lives near Houston, lost her medical plan after being laid off from a job at an upscale retirement community, as a counselor to seniors making the move. Stay-at-home orders and higher virus risks for older people have put such life transitions on hold in the pandemic.

Franklin said she received plenty of government information about coronavirus safety and economic stimulus payments, but “the insurance piece just has not been mentioned.”

She scrambled and finally found an ACA — or “Obamacare” — plan she could still afford on a reduced income. “We are in the middle of a pandemic, and God forbid if I get sick and I don't have it," she said of her health insurance.

The nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that nearly 27 million workers and family members had lost job-based health coverage as of the start of this month, a number now likely higher with unemployment claims rising.

In a counter-intuitive finding, Kaiser's study also estimated that nearly 8 in 10 of the newly uninsured would likely qualify for some sort of coverage under former President Barack Obama's health law, either a private plan like Franklin found, or Medicaid.

“The ACA is there as a safety net for the first time in an economic downturn,” said Kaiser foundation expert Larry Levitt. But “many people losing their jobs have never had to think of relying on the ACA for coverage, so there is no reason they should be aware of their options.”