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Hawaii News | Kokua Line

Kokua Line: Health coverage after job loss could vary with family income

Question: Thank you for what you’re trying to do in keeping people informed through this horrible situation. With everything closed, it’s impossible to get information, and the state is crazy if they think they can just cancel expiration dates or extend licenses or whatever and the problem goes away. My main question is about health insurance. My boss got a loan to cover our pay, but it’s short term, and even if we reopen there’s no customers so we are going to be laid off. I am so scared. I don’t even know where to begin.

Answer: First, we truly feel for you and the many other readers who have reached out to Kokua Line during these difficult times. Whether it’s dislocated workers shut out by the unemployment insurance system, parents anguished by their children’s loss of education, delivery drivers who need to keep their licenses current to stay on the job or people voicing numerous other concerns, Hawaii’s problems are serious and widespread. We are sorry that you and so many others are suffering.

As for your specific question, the state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs’ insurance division provides an overview of health insurance options after job loss. We’ll summarize the basics. You can find more details on the department’s website, at

If you get laid off and lose health coverage through your employer, your options would vary. Factors include whether your former employer remains in business, with a group policy that you could buy into, and whether the income and assets in your household are so low that you would qualify for Medicaid. Here are the main options, according to DCCA:

>> COBRA: “If you had/have insurance coverage through an employer with 20 or more employees and your employer is still in business with an active group policy, you are entitled to continue your coverage through the federal Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA). Under COBRA you have the option to continue your employer group health care coverage for up to 18 months. Under certain circumstances, you may also be entitled to an additional period of coverage if you are disabled, qualify for Medicare, or experience a second qualifying event,” the DCCA says.

If you are laid off, your employer should provide information about signing up for COBRA. You would pay the health plan’s full premium (no contribution from your ex-employer), plus an administrative fee. So it’s an expensive option but would provide seamless continued coverage.

>> Federal marketplace: Individuals or families may purchase comprehensive major medical insurance plans on the federal marketplace, at Although there’s an annual enrollment period, people like you with a “qualifying event,” such as losing job-based health coverage, can ask for a special enrollment period. Depending on your circumstances, a subsidy could help pay the premium. Confirm that your medical providers participate before selecting a plan, and consider the deductible and out-of-pocket expenses. You can select a plan on the website or by calling 800-318-2596.

>> Med-QUEST: Hawaii residents with very low income and assets might qualify for health coverage through the state’s Medicaid program, known as Med-QUEST. You can use the pre-assessment tool at to determine whether you are likely to qualify. It asks about household size, monthly income, assets and other matters. If you seem to be eligible, you would apply at the same site. For additional information, go to

Write to Kokua Line at Honolulu Star-Advertiser, 7 Waterfront Plaza, Suite 210, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., Honolulu 96813; call 529-4773; fax 529-4750; or email

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