What Obamacare Means to You If You're Unemployed

If you don't have a job, you're probably wondering how you can even afford health insurance. Under Obamacare, you may have a few options.

Is the exchange for me? If you don't have a steady income, you may qualify for the expanded Medicaid program that gives you what the Affordable Care Act (ACA) defines as the Minimum Essential Benefits: emergency care, hospitalization, maternity and newborn care, mental health and substance abuse services, prescription drugs, lab services and preventive care. Any plan available through the exchange must have the same benefits, though it can offer more.

But not all 50 states agreed to expand Medicaid -- 22 have not expanded the program and three more are still up in the air. In 2012 the Supreme Court ruled that states could opt-out of expanding their Medicaid programs in response to a case that challenged the ACA, also known as Obamacare. If your state opted out and you fall within the income guidelines that would qualify you for Medicaid in other states, you won’t be hit with a penalty for not having insurance. Use our tool below to find out if your state has expanded Medicaid coverage.

If you're recently unemployed and have COBRA coverage, which requires you to pay the full cost of your insurance policy, a plan through the exchange should be a lot cheaper. Plus, COBRA is only available for 90 days.

What else do I need to know? You can go without health insurance for 90 days in any plan year without being hit with a penalty. But if you’re out of work longer than that, you have to find a coverage option that works for you or pay at tax time. That means you should enroll in Medicaid if your state has expanded the program and you qualify, get on your parents' insurance if you're under 26 or buy a policy yourself.

What if I don’t buy coverage? You’ll pay a tax penalty of either 1 percent of your income or $95 per adult and $47.50 per child for the year, whichever is higher. In 2016, the penalty increases to 2.5 percent of income or $695, whichever is higher. Plus, anyone without health insurance will have to pay the full cost of medical care should they need it. You won’t have to pay a penalty for not having insurance if you fall into one of these categories.

  • You qualify for Medicaid but your state didn't expand the program

  • Your state’s health exchange doesn't have a plan you can afford (costs less than 8 percent of earnings)

  • You spent less than three months without coverage

  • You’re a member of a recognized religious group with objections to insurance and government programs, including Social Security and Medicare

    For more on who is exempt visit Healthcare.gov

Now, use our tool to figure out how much a new health insurance plan will cost plus learn about important dates and coverage in your state.

Sources: The Kaiser Family Foundation, the U.S. Small Business Administration, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, the Health Insurance Marketplace, U.S. Census Bureau and the UC Berkeley Labor Center.

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