This article provides resources for uninsured Texans needing help with COVID-19 testing or treatment. This article also features information on how to get healthcare coverage if you lost your job and your medical insurance benefits.
Local Community Health Centers
If you do not have health insurance, you can contact your local community health center for assistance. To find one near you, use this directory found on the Texas Association of Community Health Centers website. To prevent the spread of COVID-19, many centers are asking patients to call first before coming in.
You can also call 2-1-1 and select Option 6 for questions about symptoms, travel concerns, unemployment insurance, emergency food assistance, city and state orders, help with finding a doctor or accessing care, and more. You can also call toll-free at 877-541-7905 or visit www.211texas.org. Hours: 7:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m., 7 days per week.
Various cities across Texas (Austin, Corpus Christi, Dallas, Fort Worth, El Paso, Houston, Lubbock, San Antonio) also have websites with public health information and local hotlines for COVID-19 questions and virtual screenings.
COBRA Benefits: I got laid off and had insurance through my job
The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) is designed to provide exiting employees the option to continue the coverage (same network of doctors and hospitals, same deductible) they have through their employer’s group health plan. Employers with 20 or more employees are typically required to offer this option.
If you are eligible for COBRA, you usually have up to 60 days to decide if you want to continue your coverage — even if you initially decline, you still have the option to sign up for it within that period.
The continuation coverage is available for up to 18 months — your spouse and dependents can stay covered for three years, depending on the circumstance. See the Department of Labor's FAQs on COBRA for more information.
Note: the part of the premium that your employer used to cover is now your responsibility under COBRA coverage.
Health Insurance Marketplace: I got laid off and had insurance through my job
The next place to look is the insurance exchanges set up under the Affordable Care Act. Losing health insurance that you got through your job is considered a "qualifying event" or Special Enrollment Period to enroll in a plan on all the health insurance exchanges. That means you can go to Healthcare.gov and shop for a new plan. The open enrollment period ends on Dec. 15 each year, but if you’ve just left your job and lost your employer-based health insurance, you qualify for a Special Enrollment Period that typically lasts 60 days.
Note that the 60-day period after you leave your job is the same amount of time you have to decide if you want COBRA, which means you’ll have to choose between one or the other during that time — although there are exceptions to that rule. If you don’t sign up during the Special Enrollment Period, you’ll need to wait until the next Marketplace open enrollment period, Nov. 1 through Dec. 15.
Marketplace plans can’t terminate your coverage due to a change in health status — that includes being diagnosed with or being treated for COVID-19.
The Kaiser Family Foundation has created a tool to calculate the average benchmark premiums each year (see the HealthCare.gov definition of the silver plan). It’s unlikely you’ll pay the sticker price. Most people qualify for subsidies like premium tax credits and cost-sharing reductions on deductibles, copayments and other out-of-pocket expenses. The Kaiser Family Foundation also has a subsidy calculator so you can see what you might pay in premiums for these plans — remember that your unemployment benefits count as income.
Your household size and income determine which health coverage you’re eligible for and which subsidies you qualify to help pay for the coverage.
When you fill out your Marketplace application, you’ll also be notified if you qualify for free or low-cost coverage through Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Neither of these have the enrollment period restrictions like Marketplace plans.
If you do decide to go with a Marketplace plan, ask about the health insurance company’s coverage policy for COVID-19 before you sign anything — currently, many plans cover it the same as any other viral infection, although that policy may change.
My kids have lost their coverage, too. What can I do?
There will be many people who don't have access to insurance they can afford, even with the options mentioned above. If you can't get a health plan for the adults in your family, your children might still be able to get coverage — the rules are different for them, as well as for pregnant women. InsureKidsNow.gov is a good place to start to determine if your children may be eligible. Texas school districts are also providing services (see below).
Austin Independent School District Resources
If you have a child attending a school in the Austin Independent School District, here are some telehealth resources available to you:
- Austin ISD offers health services through their Campus Health Rooms. Contact the Austin ISD Student Health Services for information on health services and telehealth options.
- Austin ISD offers School Mental Health Centers that provide mental health care for students and their families. If your student does not have access to one of Austin ISD's School Mental Health Centers, students, families, and staff are able to apply for telehealth services. Visit Austin ISD's School Mental Health Centers page for more information.
- Integral Care: For those experiencing a mental health crisis, you can contact this 24/7 Crisis Helpline at (512) 472-HELP (4357) or text "TX" to 741741 to connect to the Crisis Texas Line. Working with NAMI Central Texas, helpful tools will be posted on their website.
Dallas Independent School District Resources
If you have a child attending a school in the Dallas Independent School District, there are a range of services available to students and families, including:
- medical services
- mental health services
- prescription services
For more information, you can contact your child's school nurse or visit one of DISD's Youth and Family Centers where you and your family can receive medical attention at little to no cost.
Houston Independent School District Resources
If you have a child attending a school in the Houston Independent School District, affordable health care is available for students and sometimes family members and the community on a number of HISD campuses. Most services are provided free of charge, thanks to hospital foundations, Medicaid, CHIP plans, etc. Please call for eligibility criteria and appointments.
You can search for the health care center nearest you through the Houston ISD Health & Medical Services website.