Observer Group Newspapers of Southern California Inc. via Covered CA

This month millions of Californians are losing federal unemployment benefits made available to them because of the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Thousands of others will lose federal aid that helped absorb the high costs of their COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act) health coverage after getting laid off or having their hours reduced by their employers.

But Covered California — which administers the Affordable Care Act, aka “Obamacare” — may help take some of the sting out of these lost benefits by offering consumers quality, low-cost health plans from name-brand insurers across the state. Most consumers can now qualify for comprehensive health coverage for just $1 per month.

Here is a quick guide to help those losing benefits.

Q. What specific federal unemployment benefits are ending and how can Covered California help?

A. Four pandemic-related unemployment programs expired earlier in September, which impacted more than 2.2 million Californians. according to the California Employment Development Department (EDD). In addition, another 500,000 Californians will no longer be receiving the weekly $300 federal supplement with their unemployment benefits. Those losing federal unemployment benefits can enroll in low-cost Covered California plans right now, where more financial help is available than ever before thanks to the American Rescue Plan. 

Over 1 million Covered California enrollees have already benefitted from the increased financial help, which is dramatically lowering monthly health care costs and has enabled more than 738,000 people to date to get health coverage for as little as $1 per month. 

Q. How can Covered California help me, if my federal COBRA health plan subsidies expire at the end of September?

A.  Covered California recently announced it opened a special enrollment period for an estimated 138,000 Californians whose federal subsidies for COBRA health coverage will be ending this month and who face significantly higher monthly health care premiums in October. The subsidies were also part of the American Rescue Plan, and helped many employees and their families continue to receive their group health coverage during the pandemic by covering the full cost of their monthly premiums, 

Eligible Californians can qualify for financial help that can save them hundreds of dollars on their monthly health care costs. In addition, many of these consumers will be able to stay with their same brand-name health insurance company when they switch to Covered California.

Q. How long does Covered California’s COBRA special enrollment period last?

A. Covered California’s enrollment period for COBRA recipients runs through Nov. 29, 2021.  Those who sign up with Covered California before the end of September will have their new coverage begin on Oct. 1. For COBRA recipients who want to keep their existing coverage for the balance of 2021, they can switch during Covered California’s open enrollment period starting in November and potentially get significant financial help starting in January 2022.

Q. How do I sign up for these ultra, low-cost Covered California health plans?

A. Consumers can check their eligibility now for big savings on their monthly health care costs through Covered California by using this quick calculator. They will need to input their household income, ZIP code, household size and the age of each family member and note whether they received unemployment benefits at any time in 2021. Once completed, they will see how affordable a health plan can be in their local area and the cost of their monthly premium.

Those interested in learning more about their health coverage options through Covered California and Medi-Cal can also:

• Visit www.CoveredCA.com.

• Get local help and free and confidential assistance, in a variety of languages, from a certified enroller. 

• Have a certified enroller call them and help them for free.

• Call Covered California at (800) 300-1506.

Q. Is there other help available for those losing federal assistance in September?

A. For those whose federal unemployment benefits are ending, California’s Employment Development Department (EDD) is encouraging them to apply for other programs expanded by the American Rescue Plan. They include up to $234 per person per month in food assistance via CalFresh, and rental and utility assistance from the Housing is Key program. 

Many losing federal unemployment assistance may also qualify for state unemployment benefits. EDD has an online calculator for Californians to estimate any potential benefit amount they can get, which can range from $40 to $450 a week.