Free Health Insurance Available For Millions Who Lost Jobs During COVID-19 Pandemic

While much of the talk around the American Rescue Plan Act, passed by Congress in March, was about the $1,400 direct stimulus payment, the federal relief package also included six months of free COBRA health insurance.

Video Transcript

- Millions of laid off Americans now have an option to keep their workplace health insurance for free. Brian New joins us with who qualifies and how to sign up for free COBRA insurance.

BRIAN NEW: So much of the talk around the latest relief package passed by Congress had to do with the $1,400 stimulus check. But also in that relief package was six months of free COBRA health insurance that could save many North Texas families thousands of dollars.

- Probably a viral infection.

BRIAN NEW: Without insurance, little health problems can easily turn into big bills, which is why, by law, if you lose your job, you can keep your work's health insurance. It's known as COBRA.

KAREN POLLITZ: So we all have the right to continue temporarily under COBRA. The trick is, you have to pay the whole cost.

BRIAN NEW: On average, COBRA insurance is $600 a month for one person, $2,000 for a family, which health insurance expert Karen Pollitz says far too often forces families to make difficult decisions.

KAREN POLLITZ: If you can't pay the rent and health insurance, you know, most people are going to pay the rent because you got to have a place to live. So if you can get the health insurance for free or next to nothing, that just takes that trade-off off the plate.

BRIAN NEW: And that's what this new relief program does, at least temporarily. Here's what you need to know. First, what exactly is it? It's six months of free COBRA insurance from April 1 to September 30. Who qualifies? Any worker laid off in the past year who lost their company's health insurance, even those who initially elected not to take COBRA because they couldn't afford it.

KAREN POLLITZ: They have the opportunity to kind of get a do-over, come back, elect it, come in and get it free.

BRIAN NEW: So how do you sign up? You must notify your former employer. Companies are supposed to be sending employees notices. But if you're still waiting, you can also fill out this form from the Department of Labor's website and send it to your employer. Pollitz says expect there to be hiccups. This is new, and it's happening fast. But she says for many struggling families, it will be worth it.

KAREN POLLITZ: I think for the people who are eligible for it, it's going to be life-changing.

BRIAN NEW: So what about those who are not eligible for COBRA? The latest stimulus relief package also included free health insurance on the marketplace for those who are on unemployment, as well as subsidies for plans on the marketplace for those who are back at work. We have a lot more information on our website, In Frisco, Brian New, "CBS 11 News."