Health coverage after a layoff

January 9, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
Five steps to take to hold onto your health coverage after a layoff.

With U.S. unemployment at a record 6.5 percent and layoffs continuing, the ranks of the uninsured will continue to grow. However, armed with statistics that nearly one-third of the current uninsured have government programs they are eligible for but don't know it, Phil Lebherz, executive director of the Foundation for Health Coverage Education (FHCE), advises "being laid off shouldn't automatically mean you go without health coverage."

The nonprofit San Jose, Calif.-based health coverage think tank has come up with five steps people need to take in reviewing how they can hold on to their current coverage or transition to some form of gap coverage.

5 Steps to Take for Holding on to Your Insurance Coverage

1. COBRA. While this may be the most expensive option, it's a good one for someone with a pre-existing medical condition. For people recently laid off, the first, immediate option to review is COBRA coverage. COBRA is required of businesses with 20 or more employees. It provides continuation of group health coverage that otherwise might be terminated. One common myth about COBRA coverage is that it is only good for 18 months, but quite often this is not the case as it can be continued indefinitely through state COBRA programs. First steps include checking with the employer's human resources department to receive complete information on how to qualify for COBRA, the costs and how to apply. If COBRA is an option, it should be carefully reviewed before being refused as once it's dismissed, it can't be recalled.

2. Going from a double- to a single-income family. For the family in a two-income home where one parent has been laid off, checking into programs like Healthy Families is an important step. In many states, a family of 4 can make up to $60,000 (California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Vermont, Washington, D.C.) and in other states up to $50,000 a year (Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, New Mexico, New York, Washington) and still qualify the children for comprehensive coverage. These programs may provide low-cost health coverage for children and teens up to age 19 including comprehensive health, dental and vision coverage. Moving the family's young dependents from private insurance to government sponsored plans can reduce monthly premiums and perhaps make a family's adult private premium coverage affordable.

3. High Deductible Plans. For healthy individuals, another cost effective option while unemployed may be to purchase lower-cost high deductible individual coverage. until new employment is found. With the exception for New York, Massachusetts and Vermont, a person can obtain this coverage for anywhere from $50 to $150 per month providing basic catastrophic coverage with a high deductible until he or she becomes eligible for the new employer's plan. You can visit www.nahu.org for a national listing of insurance brokers near you.

4. Coverage for Pre-existing Conditions. For people who have been laid off and must purchase individual health insurance but are unable to obtain coverage due to a pre-existing condition, many states have government sponsored medical risk insurance pools (such as California's Major Risk Medical Insurance Program). State residents who qualify for these programs participate in the cost of their continued coverage by paying premiums that are supplemented by the state. Go to your state's government website to find out what type of medical pool coverage may be offered.

5. Help for Single Pregnant Women. For a single woman who is pregnant and doesn't make more than $25,900 in a year, there are maternity programs state by state which will pay for the coverage of the baby before, during and after the birth of the child into the first year. With names like Access for Infants and Mothers, this often comprehensive coverage provides low-cost or free health coverage for pregnant women before, during and following the delivery of the baby and health coverage for their newborn through the baby's first year of life.

Concerned that so many Americans don't know where to go to find out about eligibility for government sponsored and low cost programs, the FHCE has centralized information about public programs available in all 50 states and captured, on a single website database, more than 174 government programs that can help. To identify what they qualify for, website visitors can take the simple 5-Question Eligibility Quiz online, or phone the free 24/7, multilingual U.S. Uninsured Help Line at 800-234-1317 and talk with a live counselor who will review the questions with them. This eligibility review is a starting point with the Fresno, California-based call center's staff who then guide each caller through their options and to the appropriate state-sponsored program.

The Foundation for Health Coverage Education is a non-profit organization based in San Jose, California. For more information, please visit the website at www.coverageforall.org

About Philip Lebherz:
Philip Lebherz is the Founder and Chief Executive Director of the Foundation for Health Coverage Education (FHCE), a non-profit organization based in California. FHCE evolved in response to the growing number of uninsured Californians. The FHCE mission is to simplify public and private health insurance eligibility information in order to help more people access coverage.

As a health insurance industry veteran, Mr. Lebherz has been helping Californians find health coverage since 1977. In 2002, he began researching the number of uninsured Californians and discovered a startling fact: a significant number were actually eligible for subsidized or low cost programs but just not enrolled. Obviously the system was not as broken as the media made it out to be. As he continued to collect evidence, it was clear that the complex, confusing and sometimes even frightening enrollment process was a key factor in the under-enrollment of already available programs.

Committed to simplifying the access process, Mr. Lebherz embarked on a campaign to "Reframe the Debate" concerning the uninsured, launching the Foundation for Health Coverage Education at the National Health Policy Conference in Washington, D.C. in 2003. FHCE's 'Coverage For All' campaign increased health care enrollment awareness in California and has recently created and launched a national model that helps to educate consumers, health care professionals, legislators and the insurance industry to close the affordability and accessibility gap in all 50 states across the country.

As the 'numbers guru' on the country's uninsured, Mr. Lebherz has lectured before the National Association of Health Underwriters as well as California legislative forums and Rotary Clubs. He has also served as a health care strategist for members of the Hoover Institute.

Mr. Lebherz is the Founder & Chairman of Lebherz Insurance Services Inc. (LISI) which he founded in 1977 with a staff of five. Today, LISI serves over 12,000 brokers from six fully-staffed offices statewide and is the largest general agency in California. Mr. Lebherz resides in the Bay Area with his wife and four children where he is an active member of his local school board and a participant in many community projects beyond the Bay Area, including a college-prep school for underprivileged children in San Diego County.


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