It’s never a good time to lose your health insurance. It’s even worse when you’re going through cancer treatment.
Knowing what health insurance coverage options exist can keep you on track with treatment and help you avoid surprise medical bills. Here are two common scenarios that might cause you to lose your health insurance and how to handle them.
Changes in Employment Status
The majority of Americans have corporate health insurance through their employer. As a result, most people continue working through cancer treatment, either because they want to or because they have to financially.
If your employment status changes, or if you rely on spousal health insurance coverage and they become unemployed, the coverage stops.
Cancer is considered a disability and is protected from workplace discrimination by the Americans with Disabilities Act. If you suspect you’ve been fired because of your cancer diagnosis, you can file a complaint with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). If you’re a cancer caregiver, you might be protected, too, according to the disability discrimination fact sheet from the EEOC.
You must file the complaint within 180 days. This won’t take care of your health insurance problem in the short term, but it’s another recourse to consider when it comes to your long-term financial health. The EEOC’s Public Portal has more information on how to file a complaint.
Your Health Insurance Provider Folds
If you are enrolled in coverage through an Affordable Care Act marketplace, you might be at bigger risk of your health insurance provider disappearing. According to a 2018 Kaiser Family Foundation study, an estimated 26% of enrollees only have access to one choice of insurance provider, as more providers have exited the marketplace.
Your health insurer should provide you with notice of termination. Contact your state’s department of insurance, listed by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, for information on your legal rights and how to recoup any premiums you may have overpaid.
What Can You Do?
You have three health insurance coverage options if you lose your insurance:
1. Get coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace on HealthCare.gov.
2. Sign up for COBRA through your employer, a federal law that may let you continue employer coverage, usually for 18 months after your job ends. You’ll pay the full premium yourself, plus a small administrative fee.
3. Purchase coverage through a private health insurance provider.
Loss of employment is one of several life changes that qualifies you for special enrollment in the Health Insurance Marketplace, according to HealthCare.gov. If you lost coverage within the past 60 days or expect to lose coverage in the next 60 days, you don’t have to wait until the open enrollment period.
While you weigh your health insurance coverage options and decide which alternative is the best for you, these next steps can help you minimize the impact of any gaps or changes in coverage:
- Find out when your coverage will terminate.
- Make sure your cancer team is in-network when choosing a new plan.
- Notify your cancer center and financial counselor of health insurance changes.
- If there’s a gap in coverage, let your cancer care team know. If possible, reschedule treatments and procedures for when the new coverage begins.
Losing your health insurance coverage can be an unwelcome and costly distraction at a time when your energy should be focused on healing and self-care. Knowing your options and maintaining good communication with your cancer team can help keep insurance headaches from sidelining your cancer treatment.
UVA Cancer Center's financial coordinators can help you navigate your health insurance coverage options.Learn More