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Shop smart for good, low-cost health insurance

June 10, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Many out-of-work Americans are going without health insurance. That can be dangerous. Unfortunately most of the government's new healthcare bill doesn't go into effect until 2014. But there is a way to find affordable health insurance now.These are tough times: You lose your job, then you lose your health insurance. Even if you're eligible for Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) health coverage, it is very expensive, and the government subsidy to help pay for it is going away. But you may be eligible for low-cost insurance coverage through one of many state or federal programs.

Liz Laud of Westwood works at home, but her toughest job right now is finding affordable health insurance.

Liz said she used to have terrific health insurance while working for a big company, but when she got laid off she had to turn to COBRA coverage, and her premiums skyrocketed.

"When I was an employee for my company, I think I was paying about $52 a month, and it went to 421," said Liz.

Liz did take advantage of a government subsidy bringing her insurance premiums down, but that subsidy was temporary, leaving her no choice but to shop around.

"Both the subsidy and COBRA end at some point," said Liz. "It's not a gift that keeps giving. You have to figure out, really, 'What am I going to do next?'"

Ankeny Minoux is president of the Foundation for Health Coverage Education, which manages a website, CoverageForAll.org, devoted to helping consumers find good low-cost insurance.

"Since it's a national non-profit organization, what we've done is organize every program for every single state," said Ankeny.

Although she doesn't come to your home, Ankeny is working with Liz to help her shop for insurance. She says there are millions of Americans who are on COBRA that could qualify for a low-cost public healthcare policy from the state or federal government.

"Some of the public programs are either free or very, very low cost," said Ankeny.

If you're ready to shop for insurance, Ankeny recommends a few things:

  • Use insurance comparison websites like CoverageForAll.org for public programs, and eHealthInsurance.com for private programs.
  • Feel free to mix and match public and private programs, especially if you have children.
  • And above all, don't drop your COBRA coverage until you find alternative coverage.

"For the public programs it does take a while to sign up, so plan ahead. You might need 90 days just to get that process going, so don't stop your COBRA until you do have everything lined up," said Ankeny.

Right now you can't count on the new healthcare bill that Congress just passed because it won't address some of the issues that might help out-of-work consumers find affordable health coverage until 2014.


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