Health Resources for Uninsured Texans (COVID-19)
Here are some resources for uninsured Texans needing help with COVID-19 testing or treatment. Also there is information on how to get health-care coverage if you lost your job and your medical insurance benefits.
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.
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. However under the rule issued this spring, that clock doesn't start ticking until the end of the COVID-19 "outbreak period" that started March 1 and it will continue for 60 days after the COVID-19 national emergency is declared to be at an end. With this extension of the time frame to sign for up for COBRA coverage, people have at least 120 days to decide whether they want to elect COBRA, and possibly longer depending on when you were laid off.
The continuation coverage is available for up to 18 months — your spouse and dependents can stay covered for three years, depending on the circumstance.
But here’s where it gets expensive: The part of the premium that your employer used to cover is now your responsibility.
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 for 2020 has ended, 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.
Within the Marketplace, the 2020 premiums for the average benchmark plan (aka silver plan)— is $462, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. But 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 handy 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.
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).
If you have a child attending a school in the Austin Independent School District, here are some telehealth resources available to you:
- Virtual Care for Kids: All AISD families can see a provider from home via laptop, computer, or smartphone. Copays are currently waived for AISD families. To use this service, you must first register at my.austinisd.org. To be seen by a provider, visit this Urgent Care for Kids website. Note that the telemedicine service has been expanded to include adults.
- Vida Clinic: This school-based mental health partner is offering teletherapy services to adults and students in the Austin ISD community beginning March 18. To learn more or schedule services, contact them at (512) 518-2209 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 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.
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.
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 hosptial foundations, Medicaid, CHIP plans, etc. Please call for eligibility criteria and appointments.
You can search for the health care center nearest you through this website.