SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- An alarming projection: The state's health insurance advocacy group says as many as one million Californians could lose their health insurance during the pandemic -- just as folks need medical care the most to stop the spread of novel coronavirus. The state is now re-opening its open enrollment period.
Covered California, the state's insurance marketplace, now considers COVID-19 a life-changing event. It means if you lose your job or work less because of it, you may qualify for free or low cost health insurance.
As tens of thousands of Californians suddenly lose their jobs or work fewer hours, thousands are also losing health insurance -- just as the pandemic is spreading.
Public health advocates say thousands are losing coverage provided by employers. Not only that, gig workers and hourly employees are earning less, and can no longer afford premiums -- they may choose food over health coverage -- so the numbers of uninsured may skyrocket.
"We expect that as people lose hours and lose their jobs they'll also lose coverage and that's not just tens of thousands. That's possibly over a million Californians," says Anthony Wright, director of California's Health Access.
He says it's not only vital for personal medical care; insurance is a vital tool for stopping the spread of coronavirus.
"This is absolutely the worst time for people to be uninsured. We want people to be insured, to have a doctor to have a usual source of care to be able to call if they have the symptoms, so they can get screened and tested. We need that not just for them but for the public health effort of controlling this and containing this coronavirus," says Wright.
So, Covered California has now added the coronavirus impact as a "life-changing event." That means those who lose coverage due to the pandemic can now apply for free or low-cost health insurance. You can be eligible based on your new estimated income.
Here's who can get help:
- Individuals earning less than $17,200 per year will qualify for a free or low-cost Medi-Cal PLAN
- A family of four with an income up to about $35,000 will also qualify for a free or low cost plan
- Individuals earning up to $75,000 may qualify for a subsidized plan under Covered California
- A family of four can earn up to $150,000 and still receive a subsidy for health insurance.
Even before the pandemic, three million Californians had no insurance. If they get COVID-19, their hospital charges would be enormous. And without a doctor to refer patients for screening, the disease spreads.
"The ability to contain this coronavirus is dependent on our ability to screen and test for it and to know where it is. If people are afraid to go to a doctor... because of fear of a bill that will hamper our ability to control this virus," Wright says.
To see if you qualify for free or low cost insurance, go to Covered California.
Go here for the latest news, information and videos about the novel coronavirus.
Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.