BILLINGS — Montanans who are don’t carry health insurance or may have lost it, when they got laid off could be some of the most vulnerable, if they get sickened with COVID-19, according to a new national study.
However, Montana state leaders say there are ways to get coverage, and fast, as the virus continues to spread. New information has been compiled from the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit organization that tracks national health issues.
The research says nearly six million adults nationwide working in service jobs, including drivers, servers, construction work, cooks and cashiers, are at a greater risk of contracting coronavirus while not being covered for treatment. The study also says in 2018, nearly 28 million non-elderly people in the U.S. lacked health insurance.
However, Montana Commissioner of Insurance and Securities Matt Rosendale says there are resources for those who don’t have coverage, and the time to act is now.
“I think that is the key to this right now. It's like you can’t wait until you have an accident with the automobile and then go and get insurance, it doesn’t cover it then,” said Rosendale. “People need to go out right now and be covered.”
If a person has lost their health insurance because they were laid off from their job, there are several options and potential solutions, says Rosendale.
You may be eligible under an employer’s COBRA-qualifying insurance plan. It’s the same health coverage a worker may have had during their employment, but the plan could end up costing the employee and dependents more, as they’ll be asked to now pay the full premium.
There’s also this: Job loss and loss of employer-sponsored health coverage triggers a "qualifying event" under federal law to get new coverage under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
The person has 60 days to enroll in a new health insurance plan. They can enroll at the federal healthcare.gov website.
Or, Rosendale says there are other, non-ACA options available, including short-term, limited-duration health insurance and Direct Primary Care through the state of Montana.
Short-term plans typically offer less thorough coverage than ACA plans, but are usually cheaper.
While direct primary care is not insurance, but is instead a membership signed up for directly with a doctor's office to get the specific services they provide.
For more on short-duration insurance you can visit the commissioner’s website here.
“Don’t wait until you get sick. Don’t go uncovered. That is really a big thing,” said Rosendale.
And there’s some good news for those who do have insurance still and may come in contact with COVID-19.
“So if you are forced to have a major hospital stay because of COVID-19 we are even starting to see information come down from the insurers, that they are they are eliminating a lot of the copays and deductibles,” said Rosendale.
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act was signed into law in March, which may ensure more uninsured can access free testing.
“If someone needs to be tested, I think that you are going to find out that that is going to be done with no cost whatsoever to that individual,” he said.
However, according to the Kaiser Foundation’s reporting, the legislation doesn’t necessarily address coverage of treatment if you get the COVID-19 and don’t have health insurance.
So Rosendale encourages Montanans who are uninsured and having difficulty making payments to rent and bills to take action now.
“As soon as you see that you are going to have difficulty making those payments to any party, contact them immediately, because we are finding that everyone is making provisions and trying to work together so that we can all get through this very, very difficult circumstance,” he said.
For now, it’s still unclear if Congress will put forth additional programs to financially cover treating those without healthcare who contract COVID-19 and need treatment through a hospital stay.