There’s never a good time to be without health insurance, but it’s especially risky during a pandemic.

While those who are elderly or have underlying health conditions are most likely to have severe complications from COVID-19, anyone can become infected and require hospitalization. In turn, that could leave the uninsured with thousands of dollars in medical bills or prompt others to forgo health care even if they become seriously ill.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Minnesota offers many options if you are uninsured or facing a coverage loss due to a layoff. Rarely has it been more important to take advantage of these opportunities.

Gov. Tim Walz announced the newest choice late last week. MNsure, the state’s online insurance marketplace, has launched a COVID-19 special enrollment period that began Monday and lasts through April 21. Individuals who enroll after April 1 but before the deadline will have retroactive coverage to the first of the month.

Normally, those who shop on the individual market, meaning they buy private health insurance on their own instead of getting it through an employer, have a window of time in November and December to select a plan for the coming year. The newly announced enrollment period gives those who didn’t buy at that time a second chance to get coverage for the rest of the year. That would be a smart decision given the still-developing public health crisis caused by a new strain of coronavirus.

Minnesotans don’t have to be sick with COVID-19 to enroll during this period. Even more good news: The Affordable Care Act’s financial aid to instantly discount monthly premiums is still available to those who qualify. MNsure’s online tools can help Minnesotans estimate the assistance they may be eligible for and compare plans available in their area.

MNsure’s help for those facing coverage losses also extends year-round. Even before COVID-19 struck, loss of employer coverage generally triggered a 60-day special enrollment period throughout the year for individuals in this unfortunate situation. That policy remains in place.

So do options that help current MNsure enrollees who have seen their incomes reduced due to lost hours or pay cuts, for example. They may be newly eligible for additional financial assistance. “We ask they report changes within 30 days of the date of the change,” said Marie Harmon, a spokeswoman for the online marketplace.

Minnesotans are also able to determine year-round their eligibility for the state’s robust publicly run medical programs. The two main programs are Medical Assistance (MA) and MinnesotaCare, the latter of which helps those who work but may still have difficulty affording private health insurance.

Household size and income are key determinations whether you qualify. For example, a single adult with an annual income of up to $16,611 is eligible for MA. For MinnesotaCare, it’s $24,980. MNsure offers online enrollment, but Minnesotans can also fill out and return a paper application. You can print one at or seek assistance from county or tribal offices.

The uncertainties created by the pandemic will not subside soon. Taking action now to secure medical coverage can help Minnesotans stay healthy and worry less in the challenging days and weeks ahead.