Health Insurance Options in a Tough Economy

In the last four months, 2.6 million jobs have disappeared from the American economy. About half the people who held those jobs also lost their health insurance.
    
But a job loss doesn’t have to mean a loss of insurance coverage, too. A provision in the recently passed economic stimulus bill makes health insurance significantly more affordable for the involuntarily unemployed. The federal government will now subsidize premiums for insurance plans purchased under the terms of a law called "COBRA."

COBRA allows people to keep their employer-provided health insurance
for up to 18 months after they’ve left their job. Typically, COBRA
participants have to pay the full premium for their old plan, which
includes the amount their employer previously paid for them, plus a two
percent administrative fee. Maintaining coverage can therefore be
pricey.
   
Thanks to the stimulus package, the government will
pick up 65 percent of a newly involuntarily unemployed worker’s
insurance premium for up to nine months after COBRA enrollment. That
subsidy will keep insurance within the reach of scores of laid-off
workers during these tough times.
   
This new benefit is only
available to "qualified" individuals — but that includes many of the
newly unemployed. If you were laid off after August 31, 2008, were
insured through your former employer, and aren’t already eligible for
Medicare or some other form of group health insurance (like a spouse’s
plan), you’re eligible.
   
Even those who didn’t sign up for
COBRA in the 60 days after they lost their job, as is typically
required by law, can receive the subsidy. Companies must notify all
workers terminated after August 2008 of the new provision and give them
a second chance to enroll in COBRA.
   
Even with the government
subsidy, though, COBRA coverage can be expensive. So the stimulus
package also allows laid-off workers to switch to a less expensive
insurance plan than the one they had previously, if such a plan is
available through their old employer.
   
But COBRA is not the
only option for unemployed workers looking to keep themselves and their
families covered.  A health insurance agent or broker can help you
determine if you might also be eligible for coverage in the individual
insurance market, which contains a wide range of policy choices for
consumers searching for a good deal.
   
The "Find an Agent"
tool on the website of the National Association of Health Underwriters
— accessible at www.nahu.org — can be a great resource for help
finding an affordable individual insurance plan. There, consumers can
get a comprehensive list of professional insurance agents in their
area. Professional health insurance agents can help them compare plans
to find one that best fits their budget and health needs.
   
For
people with serious medical conditions, like HIV or diabetes, an
individual policy can be hard to come by. Fortunately, many states have
high-risk insurance pools or other safety-net programs that provide
affordable health care choices for hundreds of thousands of individuals
who would otherwise be uninsured.  Patients suffering from serious
medical conditions should work with a professional health insurance
agent to see if they’re eligible for such a program in their state.
   
A
job loss can be tough, but it doesn’t have to compromise one’s health
care. Laid-off workers should take advantage of the affordable,
high-quality health insurance options available to them and make sure
they’re covered. Having health insurance is in everyone’s best interest.
By Janet Trautwein
CEO Nat’l Assoc. Of Health Underwriters

 

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