“Right now, we are seeing 45 to 55-plus requests for assistance,” he said, adding that the vast majority are from people who just lost their jobs. “That number continues to climb, as well.”
Another choice for newly unemployed people who had workplace coverage is to stay enrolled in those plans through COBRA, a law that predates Obamacare. They can stay on the plans for up to 18 months, but it’s a pricey option since they must pay the entire premium without an employer subsidy.
There are also short-term limited duration plans promoted by the Trump administration as a cheaper alternative — especially for middle-class people who don’t qualify for Obamacare’s premium subsidies. The short-term plans are typically skimpier than Obamacare plans and don’t include some of the health law’s protections for people with preexisting conditions. Some blue states have also banned or placed strict limits on these plans.
The pandemic is meanwhile throwing a spotlight on the coverage gap in 14 Republican-leaning states that haven’t joined Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion to poor adults. There are an estimated 2.3 million poor people in those states who don’t qualify for Medicaid and also don’t earn enough to receive Obamacare premium subsides.
None of the governors in nonexpansion states have so far indicated they would look to broaden their Medicaid programs amid the pandemic. Oklahoma is already moving forward with plans to expand Medicaid, while the governor also asks the Trump administration for unprecedented limits on program spending.
Larry Levitt, who oversees health policy for the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, said the uninsured numbers resulting from the current crisis are likely to be worse in states that didn’t expand Medicaid. The growth in the uninsured may be tempered by the unfortunate reality that some of the industries decimated so far — particularly in the retail and hospitality industries — have lower rates of coverage to begin with.
“It may not be quite as horrible as it first appears, since the job loss is probably concentrated in industries where fewer employers offer health benefits,” Levitt said.
Another question is whether cost-conscious employers start shedding workplace coverage and sending employers onto the Obamacare marketplaces. Some analysts are already predicting that, according to Deep Banerjee, director at S&P Global Ratings.
Some health plans are eyeing Obamacare’s individual market as a potential savior for small businesses, who already struggled to afford to help pay employees’ premiums. Some small companies have begun asking their health insurers for grace periods for their monthly bills or even halting their contracts, said Ceci Connolly, president of the Alliance of Community Health Plans, which represents nonprofit insurers.
“A special enrollment period could be the next safety net for some of these people,” she said.