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Finding health coverage after college

June 15, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Having a child graduate from college is a big milestone. But it is a harsh reality that once grown children are out of school, they often lose their health coverage. How can you avoid a potentially dangerous gap in coverage?Maya Shulman-Ment will soon graduate from college, but her parents worry because that means she will lose her health insurance.

"The best option would be if she gets a job with benefits," said John Ment, Maya's father.

If no job materializes, Maya is still eligible to stay on her father's plan for three years under the federal COBRA program. However, the program is expensive. Nationally, COBRA averages $400 per month. Still, Consumer Reports advises making every effort to get COBRA. In terms of protection, it is the best option.

"You'll have the same comprehensive coverage you always had, including things like prescription drugs and dental," said Nancy Metcalf, Health Editor, Consumer Reports. "But most important, if you have a pre-existing condition, it will be covered even when you change policies down the road."

If COBRA is not an option, you can purchase an individual plan. eHealthinsurance.com is an excellent Web site where you can compare prices and benefits. The most important thing is to make sure you are covered in case of a major medical disaster. Experts say you shouldn't be persuaded to purchase a plan just because of its low premium. In those plans, office visits to your primary doctor may not be covered. Prescription drugs and other basics may not be covered either.

"When it comes to health insurance, you get what you pay for," said Metcalf.

Consumer Reports says graduates should also stay away from a third option: temporary insurance.

"If anything serious happens, the company does not have to renew, and it will be hard to find coverage anywhere else," said Metcalf.

John and Beth say if need be, they'll help Maya pay for insurance.

"We'll do what we have to do if we have to," said Beth Shulman, Maya's mother.

"You're never done. You're parents for life," said Ment, Maya's father.

Consumer Reports says to check with your insurance company to see if there is a grace period after college graduation, or whether you have to sign up right away for COBRA or new insurance.

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