What if I lose my health insurance?

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If you’re like many Americans, health insurance is tied to your job. But if you lose your job, you’re going to need to think about your health insurance options. Here’s what you should know.

Consider COBRA

A lost job doesn’t have to mean lost health insurance. Under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, or COBRA, your former employer’s insurer is required to offer you coverage if you lose or quit your job for any reason (other than gross misconduct). For a lot of people, that can make COBRA a lifesaver. But the downside is that COBRA often costs in excess of $500 per month. However, in some cases, the government is paying 65 percent of monthly COBRA premiums for up to 15 months under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Life after COBRA

In most cases, COBRA lasts for up to 18 months. When it eventually runs out, you’ll need to think about your post-COBRA health insurance options. If you’re married, the best move may be to sign on to your spouse’s policy, which is often the cheapest choice. A more expensive option is to buy health insurance through the private market. The federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, requires your former employer’s health insurance carrier to offer you an individual medical insurance plan after COBRA expires. As a final alternative, you can look into public coverage offered by your state. But to qualify, you’ll need to meet your state’s financial requirements.

Health care without health insurance

It’s a sad reality, but people do fall through the health insurance coverage cracks. When dealing with being without health insurance, individuals need to be proactive in order to find health care. Your first call should be to your local health department. While they all typically offer vaccinations, some go beyond the basics, offering services like dental and mental health. Another good place to look is local community health clinics, which offer care for free or on a sliding scale based on income.