The pandemic left millions of people out of work around the country, and for some of us losing a job meant losing health care too. That’s why, with the insurance marketplace from the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare) opening on Nov. 1, experts expect a surge in enrollment.
One Lehigh Acres woman is preparing to find a plan for the first time. Sharon Kudingo, 64, has always had health insurance when she needed it—until now.
“I worry every day,” Kudingo said. “I do.”
After major surgery in 2019, she took an early retirement. All it took was one trip to the emergency room in September, and her finances got scary.
“Here I am trying to stay healthy, but it didn’t turn out too well,” Kudingo said.
What she thought was a bug bite turned into a swollen hand, chest pains and at least $4,000 in bills.
“I’m just scared that I’m not gonna be able to afford health insurance until I’m 65,” Kudingo said. “And I’m afraid I might have another heart issue, or I might not be able to afford my medications.”
But experts like Sabrina Corlette, a research professor at Georgetown University’s Center on Health Insurance Reforms, say there are options.
“People might actually be surprised what they will qualify for,” she said. “I study health insurance and help people access affordable comprehensive insurance coverage.”
Corlette says about 80% of people shopping in the marketplace in Florida will qualify for some kind of subsidy.
Her three pieces of advice to those shopping for the first time:
“Unfortunately, there are these sort of fake websites that have been created to look a lot like the Obamacare marketplaces,” Corlette said.
“You can actually be eligible for subsidies up to about a little over $100,000 in income per year for a family of four. So the subsidies do get more generous as you go down in income,” she said.
The one caveat for especially low-income folks is an issue called the “Medicaid gap.”
“Florida has not expanded Medicaid, which now most states have done under Obamacare,” Corlette said. “And so there is this real sort of inequity in that if you were very low income, you don’t qualify for anything at all. Where slightly higher-income people could get these Obamacare tax credits.”
But she says not to let that stop you from trying.
Kudingo says she would love to work a part-time job to make things more affordable, but she’s at high risk of serious impacts from coronavirus.
Come Nov. 1, she hopes to find a plan for 2021 that will end her health care nightmare.
“What else am I supposed to do?” she said, adding she’ll have to pray every day to stay healthy or shop insurance another way. “I have bills to pay.”
Corlette says the many people who lost their jobs and health care during the pandemic could even qualify for plans beginning in 2020. Unemployed people should also consider COBRA coverage as another option.