That massive COVID rescue package that President Joe Biden signed in March — the same law that spawned $1,400 stimulus checks and the new monthly payments for families — currently offers free health insurance to millions of Americans through the end of 2021.
But consumers don’t have a lot of time to sign up as the ticket office is closing soon, government officials point out.
Stimulus benefit’s non-contributory health plans have been available for the past month or so, and there are no income limits to eligibility. But you must meet one major admission requirement.
Get Free Health Care for Claiming Unemployment This Year
If you received unemployment benefits or were approved in 2021, you will be eligible for free health coverage through HealthCare.gov for the rest of the year. That’s the market created under the Affordable Care Act – Obamacare.
Mid-sized “silver” plans (not high-end, but also not low-end) with $0 monthly premiums made their debut on July 1 as part of the program. In comparison, this year’s typical Obamacare premium is $452 a month, according to the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation.
The health plans in the free offer are provided by private insurers and they come with low or even no out-of-pocket payments or deductibles.
“We are committed to removing the financial barriers to comprehensive health care,” Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, director of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, said in a statement. The Brooks-LaSure office operates HealthCare.gov.
As unemployment has remained high this year as the pandemic continues, the field of Americans who could potentially benefit from free health care is vast. Nearly 3.3 million people are currently unemployed, the government reported on Thursday.
Biden’s pandemic relief bill has given unemployed Americans other relief, including increased unemployment benefits through early September (although at least half of the states opted out early) and a tax cut on unemployment benefits that led to surprise tax refund for millions.
Free insurance is coming
If you are uninsured and have received unemployment benefits at some point this year (even for just one week), you can enter that information on HealthCare.gov, then purchase a free plan on the site and sign up.
But you must complete your application by August 15, when the current special enrollment period ends, Biden officials say.
The Incentive Act says that your income is not taken into account; there are normally income limits to qualify for Obamacare coverage. But keep in mind that you usually don’t qualify if you can get insurance from an employer — yours or your spouse’s — or through Medicare or Medicaid.
While free unemployment coverage ends in December, the president’s US bailout plan offers broad, economical coverage at least until 2022. So you may decide you want to stay with Obamacare after this year.
HealthCare.gov enrollees now pay no more than 8.5% of their income to health insurance, compared to the previous 10% cap. And in general, anyone who makes more than $51,000 now saves an extra $1,000 a month, according to the administration.
More than 2 million Americans signed up for marketplace plans during the special enrollment, which opened Feb. 15. Of that number, 1.2 million have opted for plans that cost $10 or less per month, thanks to the incentive discounts, says the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services
If you can’t get free insurance but need help
If you don’t qualify for the free coverage and are squeezed by high health insurance plans, you can still shop around to look for a cheaper health plan. Next, you’ll want to try some other money-saving strategies to offset your premiums:
Lower the cost of home ownership. If you’re a homeowner and haven’t refinanced with ultra-low interest rates in the past year, you may be missing out. Rates have recently slipped to their all-time lows, providing opportunities to save hundreds of dollars per month and thousands over time. Maybe you also want to see if you can score a better deal on homeowners insurance.
Dominate your debt. Credit cards have been a lifesaver for many Americans during the pandemic, but their high interest rates can wreck your finances for years. Converting your balance into a debt consolidation loan with a lower interest rate will help you pay off your debts faster and affordable.
Get serious about saving. If your budget has stretched to the point of running out, stop spending unnecessary. Cancel monthly subscriptions you don’t use and go to the grocery store with a list you’ll stick to. When you shop online, use a free browser add-on that automatically hunts for better prices and coupons.
Invest because you can afford it. You don’t have to be rich to take advantage of today’s rising stock market. A popular app allows you to invest in a diversified portfolio using nothing more than “change” of everyday purchases.