Health insurance still available for Californians who lost COBRA benefits

As many as 16 million Americans lost their employer-sponsored COBRA health insurance benefits after the government stimulus bill expired Thursday.

COBRA insurance is often prohibitively expensive for people who just lost their jobs. Monthly costs can be around $600 per month, or more.

With the loss of federal health insurance companies, some people may not be out of luck, but a little out-of-pocket. Millions of Americans who've been enjoying the free COBRA benefits from the government over the last six months, need to get replacement coverage pronto. 

That's because that benefit was part of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan which expired Thursday.

Professor Janet Coffman, a health insurance expert at UCSF's Institute for Health Policy Studies, says there are real alternatives.

"If their income is low enough, they will qualify for Medi-Cal and Medi-Cal has no premiums either. So, they have a way to get no-cost insurance," Coffman said.

To qualify for Medi-Cal, singles can't make more than $17,774 and families of two can earn up to $24,040 and get coverage. A family of four making up to $36,570 qualifies. Families of eight who earn up to$61,630 are also Medi-Cal eligible.

But that's not all.

"If their income is above the Medi-Cal threshold, which is 138% poverty, then they'd be eligible for coverage under Covered California," Coffman said. Covered California, the Golden State's version of the Affordable Care Act, can be very affordable for low-income earners.

"For folks who would be, let's say below 250% of poverty so of those have very low, $1 a month premiums," Coffman said.

Although Medi-Cal is a superb option for many Californians, be advised that your unemployment benefits count as income if that's something you receive. 

In fact, some part-time workers who receive unemployment will be ineligible for free insurance, even if they are low income. In this case, the cheapest plan may be over $200 per month for an individual.

If you want vision and dental coverage, those may be available, but it will cost you more. Because of this, many people who can't afford it skip the dentist.

Children are eligible for free and low cost medical and dental coverage through the federal CHIP program/Medi-Cal.

Folks and families with higher levels of income will get discounted Covered California subsidies which still reduce your out-of-pocket costs. And, says Coffman, the actual number of people cut off may be less than the 16 million projected.

"Some folks have probably taken jobs where they job-based insurance but many others still are unemployed," Coffman said.

Covered California says at least 138,000 Californians have become eligible.