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13 smart insurance moves for 2009

3. Don't go without health care coverage. When someone loses a job, many times paid or partially-paid health insurance goes out the door.

But going without is risking financial catastrophe. Some options include joining a spouse's policy, continuing on your former company's plan through the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, or COBRA, or buying individual catastrophic insurance.

COBRA allows employees to keep employer group insurance for a period of time -- generally 18 months -- after leaving their jobs as long as they pay their premiums. It generally applies to companies with 20 or more employees.

Another option for children is the State Children's Health Insurance Program, Evans says. Part of a federal program but administered individually by the states, it provides low-cost insurance for kids. Contact your state insurance office to get more details on the program.

4. Don't cut back on health insurance coverage. Everyone is looking for ways to save money. "(But) health insurance is probably one of the areas where you don't want to make cuts," says Chris Farrell, author of "Right on the Money! Taking Control of Your Personal Finances."

Some policies will offer lower premiums in exchange for meeting high deductibles, although that may not be practical if you can't come up with the money.

Policies also may exclude certain physical conditions or cover only specific illnesses. And they could set a much lower cap on the total lifetime payout. Such a restriction could be a problem if you or a family member has a catastrophic medical event.

If you have questions, call a few independent insurance agents and talk to them about the features that a quality policy should offer, the coverage you need for your family and the cost in your area.

5. Be alert to changes in your group health coverage. Many employers are looking for ways to cut costs. "Employers will be making tough decisions about health insurance benefits," Professor Hoyt says.

Read your policies carefully if you're changing plans or insurers. And even if you aren't switching plans, watch for any coverage changes year over year with your existing plan.

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6. Build your own insurance policy in the form of an emergency fund. If you have money set aside, you can cover a higher deductible on your home or auto policy, which will save you money.

"And you don't have to do drastic things, like liquidate your retirement account," Hoyt says.

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