Work-Life Balance

Navigating health benefits and concerns in the workplace

Written by Guest Contributor

If you find yourself looking for a new job right now, you’re not alone. The unemployment rate is a staggering 10.2%, compared to an average of 5.76% since 1948. COVID-19 has impacted tens of thousands of jobs and forced people to look for new work.

In the United States, people who are out of work aren’t just without a paycheck, either — many times they are also without health insurance. This means that if they have an accident or fall ill, they have no coverage and can amass life-altering medical debt.

One of the most significant challenges individuals face is how closely health care is tied with employment. Many people cannot afford individual insurance without having an employer subsidize part of the cost.

As a result, you’re likely to make some of your future employment decisions with healthcare in mind. Here are some things to consider to protect your safety and your health.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) requirement for employers

Under the ACA, which went into effect in 2010, employers with 50 or more full-time equivalent employees (FTEs) have to offer health insurance coverage to full-time employees that is affordable and meets minimum coverage standards.

Are they required to offer insurance?

FTEs are calculated using the total of all employee hours, part-time or full-time. The requirement to offer insurance to full-time employees applies to anyone who works an average of 30 or more hours per week.

If you’re applying to work at a reasonably sized business, make sure they offer health insurance to full-time employees. Before you accept the job, find out what protections you have against them cutting your hours below 30 per week. You don’t want to begin as a full-timer only to be reduced to part-time against your will.

Some companies offer benefits to part-time employees as well as full-timers. If hours are a concern, take a look at those options as well.

What kind of insurance can you expect?

There are two guidelines under the ACA for what your employer must offer you. It has to be affordable, which means a plan must be available that covers only you and costs 9.78% or less of your household income.

The insurance plan also has to have a minimum value, which means it covers essential benefits and is designed to pay at least 60% of the total cost of medical services for a standard population. It also has to have substantial coverage for inpatient hospital services and physician care.

If you’re working full-time and not receiving these benefits, your employer is breaking the law and is liable for substantial fines.

An employer’s responsibility for safety

In addition to proper health coverage, your employer has an obligation to protect your safety on the job. This means they need to provide appropriate safety equipment, give you the proper tools to do your job, and use colors, posters, and other signs to warn you about hazardous materials.

There are many other requirements as well, and during the COVID-19 pandemic that means protecting your health from possible infection. They should provide personal protective equipment (PPE) to wear at work so that customers or other employees don’t infect you. It should also be possible to maintain social distancing while completing work tasks.

If you feel your rights to a safe workplace have been violated in regards to COVID-19 exposure, you have the right to sue and recover damages. Don’t let an employer walk over you simply because you need work. It’s essential to hold them accountable to the legal standards.

Health insurance coverage if you’re out of work

If you haven’t yet found work and are concerned about not having health insurance, there are options to look into. You may qualify for Medicaid, which is state-based health insurance for lower-income individuals.

Medicaid is easily confused with Medicare, which is insurance coverage for older or disabled Americans and can be combined with a Medicare savings account. But don’t be misled — you don’t have to be 65 or over to qualify for Medicaid. Through Medicaid you can get coverage for a variety of essential services, including mental health. Mental health coverage is especially crucial if you’re struggling with the social and work-related changes brought about by COVID-19.

If you need medical help or mental health coverage and you’re out of work, don’t assume you can’t get aid. Instead, look into what state-based coverage you can qualify for.

Your health matters, employed or not

Unfortunately, our society can send the message that people are only valuable if they are actively working and productive. That’s far from the case. Taking care of your health is a top priority, no matter what your situation is.

Focusing on your health makes you a better worker and a stronger member of society. If you’re between jobs, look for Medicaid coverage or low-cost health clinics. As you apply for work, carefully review the offered benefits to ensure they meet the required standards.

May your future be healthy and happy!

About the Author:
Jori Hamilton is a writer from the Pacific Northwest who has a particular interest in social justice, politics, education, healthcare, technology, and more. You can follow her on Twitter @ HamiltonJori.

About the author

Guest Contributor