In the middle of a pandemic is a lousy time to find yourself without health care coverage. With layoffs and job cuts this year, however, and with the economy struggling through COVID-19, growing numbers of Minnesotans have lost their employer-paid health plans or are in other ways finding themselves without the as-critical-now-as-ever safety net that helps cover medical bills.

It’s why U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, Minnesota Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan and MNsure CEO Nate Clark hosted a virtual discussion Tuesday, to urge Minnesotans in need of a health care plan to sign up for coverage through MNsure, the state’s public exchange under the federal Affordable Care Act. The deadline to do so is Dec. 22, less than two weeks away. This is crunch time.

“If you can't get health insurance from work, a spouse, or a parent, it's a good idea to look into health insurance during this time — or risk being uninsured for the year,” as Megan Halena, program director for Generations Health Care Initiatives in Duluth, wrote in an op-ed in the News Tribune last month when this year’s open-enrollment period opened.

According to a MNsure statement in April, all of its plans “cover comprehensive benefits like doctor's visits, hospitalizations, prescriptions, mental health services and more. … Additionally, all MNsure plans are waiving in-network cost-sharing for COVID-19-related diagnostic testing and in-patient treatment."

If you already have a plan through the exchange and your household has experienced a job loss, it could alter your coverage or eligibility for financial assistance. Income changes also should be reported at mnsure.org. Other questions about insurance can be answered at the website, too.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

Need more help? Expert "assisters" are available, free of charge, by calling 651-539-2099 or 855-366-7873 between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Help through an assister, or “navigator,” is by phone this year or via a HIPAA-compliant Zoom connection.

You're far from alone if you suddenly find yourself in need of assistance, as Smith, Flanagan, and Clark pointed out.

Some good news: this year there are more plans available through MNsure for St. Louis County residents, as Halena wrote. So even if you already have coverage set up through MNsure, it's good to double check that it's the plan you want to stick with for 2021 and that your information on file is still accurate. If you have a Qualified Health Plan from 2020 and take no action, you will be automatically re-enrolled.

“If at some point in the year you were laid off and received unemployment income, it is important those changes are reported or there could potentially be an unpleasant surprise at tax time,” Halena said, offering solid advice.

Anxiousness and worry are only growing as this crisis continues. Health coverage, there in case we get sick, doesn’t need to be one of the things we are fretting over. Anyone in need of insurance can heed Halena’s advice: This year, to “weather the pandemic,” “get health insurance — from home!”