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Is COBRA My Only Option If I've Lost My Job?

Losing a job is hard enough. But losing health insurance benefits makes it even harder.

That's why the United States Congress passed the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) in 1985 to help employees continue their health insurance coverage until they find another job with suitable coverage.

So if you lose a job that provided health insurance benefits, you'll likely receive a COBRA enrollment notice that includes information and pricing to continue health insurance. You’ll then have 60 days to choose whether or not you want to continue your coverage through COBRA.

However, as most terminated employees can attest: COBRA is expensive. But why the high cost?

In most cases, your employer covers a portion of your health insurance premium each month, leaving you to cover the remaining amount. But with COBRA, your former employer will no longer cover their portion of the cost of the plan, while adding a 2% admin fee each month.

As a result, COBRA's cost is often more than double the cost of what you paid for health insurance while employed - especially with the additional admin free. And many people are left with the misconception that there aren’t other options beyond COBRA, which is certainly not the case.

What are my options beyond COBRA coverage?

Many people realize they can’t afford COBRA after losing a job. So the first thing to know is that you always have a choice: There are a variety of options outside of COBRA.

An ACA or “Obamacare” plan is one option that offers major medical coverage, but you may find that plan costs are still too expensive. Also, you can only enroll in an ACA plan within a certain window of time, usually during open enrollment periods or 60 days after losing your insurance at your previous job.

If you miss the ACA enrollment window, that’s when short-term health insurance - or temporary health insurance - comes into play. For many, it's a viable option that provides many major medical benefits with flexible coverage options at affordable rates.

Choosing a short-term health insurance plan makes sense if you don't have a chronic health condition and know that your loss of employment is only temporary. But overall, affordability is typically the top reason to choose a short-term health insurance plan.

But health insurance is not a one-size-fits-all deal so shopping around for the right coverage - and being an educated consumer while doing so - is important.

Why choose short-term health insurance?

Short-term health insurance plans offer several popular aspects, starting with quick, simple enrollment any time of year, with coverage beginning as early as the day after enrollment. Other benefits include:

  • A wide range of deductible options
  • A flexible length of coverage (from one month to 364 days), with policy renewal of up to three years (depending on your state’s rules)
  • Choice in selecting your health care providers
  • Coverage for emergency room visits, hospitalization, and lab services
  • No penalties for dropping or changing coverage

Why is short-term health insurance less expensive?

While the cost savings are different for everyone, short-term health insurance rates tend to be considerably more affordable.

For starters, most short-term health insurance plans don't cover pre-existing conditions, keeping your coverage costs low. But this also means that short-term health insurance plans may not be the best option if you have a chronic condition that requires regular visits to the doctor.

Additionally, short-term health insurance plans aren’t required to cover 10 essential health benefits like ACA plans do. As examples:

  • No short-term insurance plans cover maternity care, and none cover someone who is already pregnant.
  • Few short-term insurance plans cover mental health or substance abuse programs.
  • Few short-term insurance plans cover prescription medications.

Will I face a tax penalty if I choose a short-term medical plan?

The ACA legislation originally required taxpayers to obtain a Qualified Health Plan or face a penalty, but the penalty was changed to zero starting in 2019 (some states like California, Massachusetts, and New Jersey have mandate laws).

Before this change, the minimum penalties for not choosing such a plan were $695 for adults and $347.50 for children, with the total tax penalty of up to $2,085 for a family per year. However, with the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, the penalty aspect of the Individual Mandate was changed.

How do I shop for health insurance plans?

It's no secret that health insurance policies can be confusing, and there are far more options today than there were a decade ago. As with any product or service, it's best to shop around to know what's best for your specific situation.

You can quickly learn which health insurance plans are available in your area and the details around each by contacting a licensed agent.

Here are six tips to help you shop for the right health insurance plan:

  • Know your budget and what you can afford each month.
  • Make a list of your current health conditions and medications.
  • List any doctors you want to maintain, even for minor ailments.
  • List any other providers (i.e. specialty doctors, hospitals, clinics) you prefer to use.
  • Determine if you need dental and vision coverage.
  • Think ahead to medical procedures that you'd like to schedule (if any).

Above all: Know that choosing the best health plan for you and your family is not an impossible task. A licensed insurance professional can look up your favorite doctors and facilities to ensure that they accept the plan that you choose. He or she can also check what you'd pay out of pocket for things like medications, copays, coinsurance, and deductibles.

Get a short-term medical plan quote in minutes

Our licensed health insurance agents are available to discuss your specific situation to find the right plan for you. Our agents can help you compare plans in your area, so that you can make an informed decision in a matter of minutes. This will save your hours of research to help you find the policy that meets your individual needs.

Getting in touch with an agent can save you time and money in your search for the right plan. And if you determine that a short-term medical insurance plan is the right fit for you, you can apply today and have coverage as early as tomorrow. Get a quote today.

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Healthinsurance.com LLC is a commercial site designed for the solicitation of insurance from selected health insurance carriers. It is not an insurer, an insurance agency, or a medical provider. You may obtain a complete list of available Medicare plans by contacting 1-800-MEDICARE (TTY users should call 1-877-486-2048), 24 hours a day/7 days a week or consult www.medicare.gov.