Did you claim unemployment this year?
If you received or have been approved for unemployment benefits during 2021 — even if it was just one week — you qualify for free coverage through HealthCare.gov. That's the marketplace established under the Affordable Care Act.
Considering that millions of people remain unemployed as the pandemic lingers, the number of Americans who might be able to take advantage is massive.
“We’ve seen even in the last couple of weeks increased interest in enrollment,” Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, whose agency runs HealthCare.gov, tells the Associated Press. “When you make coverage more affordable, people buy it.”
Middle-of-the-pack "silver" plans with $0 monthly premiums arrived July 1. The free plans are provided by private insurers and come with low or even no copayments or deductibles. Note that you're typically not eligible if you can get insurance from an employer — either yours or your spouse's — or through Medicare or Medicaid.
Biden's pandemic aid bill — the one that provided $1,400 stimulus checks and the new monthly payments for families — has given other relief to unemployed Americans.
That includes beefed-up jobless benefits through early September (though at least half the states have opted out early) and a tax break on unemployment payments that has resulted in surprise tax refunds for millions.
Free plans not the only draw
Though the free coverage will run out in December, the president's American Rescue Plan is providing broad, reduced-cost coverage at least through 2022. So you may decide to stick with Obamacare even after this year.
“We’re covering more people, with better benefits, and with premiums 40 percent lower,” Biden said at the White House on Thursday. “The average premium has been cut from $104 a month to $62 a month.”
More than 2.5 million Americans have signed up for marketplace plans during the special enrollment period, which opened on Feb. 15.
Of that number, Biden says, a third have plans costing $10 or less per month, thanks to the stimulus discounts.
HealthCare.gov enrollees are now paying no more than 8.5% of their incomes on their health insurance, down from the previous 10% ceiling. Generally speaking, anyone making over $51,000 is currently saving an additional $1,000 a month, according to the administration.
If you can't get free insurance but need relief
If you don't qualify for the free coverage and are being squeezed by high health insurance costs, you might still shop around to look for a cheaper health plan. Then, you'll want to try some other money-saving strategies to offset your premiums:
Cut the cost of homeownership. If you’re a homeowner and haven't refinanced during the past year of ultra-low interest rates, you could be missing out. Rates recently tumbled back toward all-time lows, offering opportunities to save hundreds of dollars per month and thousands over time. You also may want to check whether you can score a better deal on homeowners insurance.
Dominate your debt. Credit cards have been a life-saver for many Americans during the pandemic, but their high interest can wreck your finances for years. Rolling your balances into a lower-interest debt consolidation loan will help you pay off your debts more quickly and affordably.
Get serious about saving. If your budget is stretched to the point of snapping, put a stop to any needless spending. Whenever you shop online, use a free browser add-on that automatically hunts for better prices and coupons so you’re not paying more than you have to.
Invest, because you can afford it. You don't have to be rich to profit from today’s soaring stock market. A popular app allows you to invest in a diversified portfolio using nothing more than "spare change" from day-to-day purchases.