The BAD NEWS was right there in the headline: “Louisiana loses 19,600 jobs over a 12 month period through May 2016.” (The Advocate, June 17, 2016) Not counted in the headlines are the thousands of hourly employees whose hours are being cut to less than full time, thanks to oil sector slowdowns. It is vitally important during these times of crisis that those most affected do not lose track of their most valuable asset – their health.
When the job disappears, and the money slows or stops flowing, it is all too tempting to focus on fixing that problem and let your health conditions go by the wayside. But high blood pressure will still give you a stroke whether you are employed or not. Likewise, the combination of high blood sugar and high blood pressure will still attack your kidneys and could cause failure, even if your hours are reduced. High bad cholesterol does not care about your employment status and will continue to damage your heart and arteries.
And stress, like the stress of a drop in income, can make all of these conditions worse. Much worse!
So today, I’m here to give those of you hard hit by this economy a few nudges and reminders on how to get help and maintain your health status by staying IN A HEALTH PLAN whether you are fully employed or not.
The national marketplace, healthcare.gov, has a special enrollment trigger called “change of income” that may apply (if you are laid off or have your hours decreased). With decreased income, you may also qualify for federal assistance to pay your premiums, deductibles and other cost sharing.
If you had health insurance through your job and you are laid off or have your hours decreased, your employer may offer you COBRA coverage. This essentially continues the health insurance you got through your job, but you must pay the entire bill. Seeing your full premium for the first time may really be shocking, especially when your income has taken a hit.
That’s because in COBRA, whatever contributions your employer was making to your insurance go away, and, to stay in the pool, you have to come up with all the money yourself. If you are actively undergoing expensive treatment and have reached your maximum out-of-pocket costs for the year, using COBRA might be a good plan. But you have other options.
The national marketplace, healthcare.gov, has a special enrollment trigger called “change of income” that may apply in this situation. With decreased income, you may also qualify for federal assistance to pay your premiums, deductibles and other cost sharing. Healthcare.gov offers high-quality insurance plans from Blue Cross and several other carriers. If you apply for it before the 15th of a given month, your coverage can start in as little as two weeks. It’s worth checking out, especially if the COBRA premium your employer showed you caused even MORE stress than the drop in your income!
I know from experience (I’ve been laid off) that there is nothing more stressful than losing your job or having your hours reduced … (But) with COBRA, healthcare.gov, and Medicaid, there will be an option you can afford.
If you’ve always had insurance through your job and are shopping on healthcare.gov for the first time, make absolutely sure you check out two features before you decide on a plan. First, make sure the doctors and hospital you use are in the network of the plan you select. All the carriers have “find a doctor” type applications on their websites for each product. Second, make sure you are aware of the actual deductibles and maximum-out-of-pocket costs you will be responsible for before you purchase. Some healthcare.gov plans have very high deductibles, especially bronze plans, which tend to have the lowest premiums. Make sure you understand your new coverage before you buy.
There is a third option.
Now that Louisiana has embraced an expansion of Medicaid, beginning July 1, 2016, if your income is 138% or less of the Federal Poverty Level, you could qualify for free government medical coverage. In Louisiana, Medicaid requires no premium payments at all and has no deductibles for those in this category. If the calculator on healthcare.gov says you may be Medicaid eligible, you can apply there or at healthy.la.gov. Louisiana’s Medicaid program, Healthy Louisiana, uses several different health insurance plans that offer different types of Medicaid managed care, which people in the program pick from. Do your research to see what doctors and hospitals they cover.
Most importantly, don’t despair. I know from experience (I’ve been laid off) that there is nothing more stressful than losing your job or having your hours reduced. But in this day and age, your health does NOT have to become a casualty of a downturn in the economy. With COBRA, healthcare.gov, and Medicaid, there will be an option you can afford. Please, for your health, take action!
I don’t want to lose a single one of you to stress or a lack of healthcare, no matter what is happening in the economy. Check out your options, no matter what’s happening at work, and keep seeing your docs, taking your meds and trying not to worry!
For your sake, and your family’s sake, you will be glad you did.