A woman going through chemo is wearing a mask and holding a wallet in her hand, representing how COVID-19 policy helps the cancer community.

How COVID-19 Policy Helps the Cancer Community

Nearly two years into the pandemic, COVID-19 policy is helping the cancer community in often unapparent ways. This new legislation is giving relief to people who have lost their jobs, had their hours reduced, lost their insurance, can’t pay their rent, and so much more. But these provisions have also afforded (quite literally) members the cancer community time, financial assistance, resources, and long overdue grace to manage their disease. It has helped some avoid financial devastation.

Ways for the Cancer Community to Benefit from COVID-19 Policy

However, many are not fully aware of how exactly this COVID-19 policy helps the cancer community.

Changes to federal and state employment policy might be especially helpful to patients and caregivers navigating treatment, employment, and COVID-19. In fact, two out of three individuals diagnosed with cancer report a change in their employment as they work through treatment and beyond.

$0 Premium Health Insurance through HealthCare.gov

There is a new Special Enrollment Period (SEP) for people who have received unemployment benefits this year. If you received benefits during 2021, you may qualify for a Marketplace plan with a $0 premium, regardless of your household income. You can sign up now at HealthCare.gov or learn about other benefits available to you in this recent Triage Cancer blog.

COBRA and a New Special Enrollment Period

COBRA is a federal law that allows eligible workers to keep their employer-sponsored health insurance coverage after experiencing a “qualifying event,” such as losing their jobs. The American Rescue Plan Act included a program to pay 100% of COBRA premiums for people who lost their job. People who had their hours reduced and no longer qualified for employer-sponsored health insurance were also eligible. That benefit expired on September 30, 2021, but when it expired it trigged a new Special Enrollment Period (SEP).

Under this SEP, people who received free COBRA are eligible to purchase Marketplace plans to cover the rest of 2021. Many state Marketplaces are operated by the federal government and you can view plans at HealthCare.gov. For State-run Marketplaces, visit healthcare.gov/marketplace-in-your-state.

If you have been receiving free COBRA, you should have received notice from your employer that the free premium expired on September 30.

Help for People on SSI

The Social Security Administration (SSA) is no longer penalizing SSI Recipients and applicants for receiving pandemic-related financial assistance. Previously, the SSA counted many types of assistance as income and resources for SSI. This caused individuals to have their SSI benefits reduced or suspended, or have their applications for SSI benefits denied. SSA has decided they will not count most types of pandemic-related financial assistance against SSI eligibility or benefit amounts.


In some states, more than 25% of renters are behind on their payments. Following the U.S. Supreme Court decision in August, the CDC ban on evictions was lifted, leaving renters in limbo.

You still have options if you are worried about paying rent or the possibility of eviction, including emergency rental and utility assistance. Find state and local emergency rental assistance programs here. If your landlord has filed an eviction lawsuit against you, you may qualify for free or low-cost legal help. Find legal assistance in your area here.

There are also state, county, and even city eviction bans in place that may protect you. For example, New York state extended protections against evictions to January. New Mexico's state Supreme Court has halted evictions with no current end date.

Cancer Advocacy

The dual impact of these new COVID-19 policies draws attention to the importance of cancer advocacy, for patients, caregivers, providers, and policy-makers alike. And it highlights the gaps left to fill – like paid family leave for all. Triage Cancer works to educate and prepare self-advocates through free educational materials, events, and tools. Many are available on our Cancer Advocacy page. Check out our Quick Guide to Legislative Advocacy, Chart of State Laws, and legislative calendars to get started.

However, the best way to stay current on how COVID-19 policy helps the cancer community is by subscribing to our blog!

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Kaylee Place