As Congress continues its patchwork approach to providing coronavirus relief to more than 22 million unemployed Americans, House Democrats unveiled a bill last week that would expand the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) to ensure healthcare provisions to recently unemployed individuals.

This forthcoming Worker Health Coverage Protection Act would allow laid off or furloughed individuals to continue using their employer-sponsored insurance plans at a significant discount. 

In the past, COBRA has allowed workers to continue using their job’s healthcare benefits up to 18 months after being laid off, though it required the employee to continue paying their own premiums in addition to the employer-side of the insurance. 

This leaves individuals footing a substantial bill for healthcare throughout unemployment— healthcare premiums average over $6,000 annually for individuals, according to health nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation, an amount many job seekers are unable to pay while looking for their next position. 

This new legislation would cover 100 percent of healthcare premiums if passed, with the intent of covering working Americans well past the current expanded unemployment insurance provisions, which will last until July of this year.

COBRA Benefits, Coronavirus, and You

The bill is not all-encompassing, however, and would only apply to recently laid-off individuals who had previously received their insurance through their employer. Plus, given the increasingly partisan government response to this pandemic, it’s highly possible this legislation may not pass at all. 

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Steps to Take

As such, if you are recently unemployed or fear an imminent furlough or layoff, there are steps you can take regardless of government action to ensure you’re covered:

  • Check the cost of your current premium (for both you and your employer) to see if you can afford COBRA regardless of government action. 
  • If you’re on the fence as to whether you want to keep your current coverage throughout unemployment, keep in mind you have a grace period of 60 days to decide
  • Explore the healthcare insurance marketplace of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to see if there’s an affordable insurance option.
  • The ACA’s Special Enrollment Period allows you to apply for insurance up to 60 days after leaving your previous job (regardless of if you were fired or played off). 
  • If insurance for your entire family is too expensive under the above mentioned options, provides insights and options into affordable coverage for kids and teens.

The Bottom Line on COBRA and the Coronavirus Pandemic

Planning for the worst (and hoping for the best) can protect you from economic uncertainty throughout the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, while ensuring you have the appropriate healthcare coverage during this time.