Health insurance for a COBRA-to-Medicare gap

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Dear Insurance Adviser,
I am on COBRA trying to find health insurance for the gap until I reach age 65 and Medicare. I am 61 and have been denied insurance for pre-existing conditions. What are my options, and will I be able to get insurance with the new insurance law?
–Denied in Delaware

Dear Denied,
The federal Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act program allows ex-employees to leave a job and be able to continue their group health insurance at their own expense for a period of time — usually 18 months. That’s a very good thing. The bad thing for people in their early 60s is that the 18-month continuation period is not long enough for them to reach 65 years old and be eligible for Medicare. That’s OK if they’re in good health and can qualify for an individual health insurance plan on the private market. But it’s not so good in your case, where your health history does not allow you to qualify, medically, for individual coverage.

The Affordable Care Act, the new insurance law you asked about, will make it illegal for insurance companies to deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions. However, that provision doesn’t take effect until 2014. But fear not! Here comes HIPAA to the rescue.

HIPAA is short for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. Many people are familiar with the accountability part of the act, which guarantees our medical history privacy. We’ve all filled out hundreds of HIPAA-related forms at doctors’ offices over the past few years, ad nauseam.

It’s the portability part of HIPAA that the public is less familiar with. That part of the law guarantees anyone coming off a group health insurance policy the right to buy individual health insurance with immediate coverage for pre-existing conditions! How about that for a solution to your post-COBRA problem?

So contact your health insurance company’s customer service folks to find out more about the HIPAA program available in your state. Best of all, you can keep the HIPAA health insurance policy and be covered for your pre-existing conditions all the way to Medicare.

All the best.

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