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Laid-off workers urged to explore insurance options

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NEW YORK (3/23/09)--A pink slip doesn’t have to mean you or your family go without health insurance. There are options--if you act quickly (CNNMoney.com March 18). Since the recession began, about 4.4 million workers have been laid off, and the average worker remains unemployed for about five months (CNNMoney.com March 16). Even if you haven’t received a pink slip, it’s a good idea to prepare for the possibility. Take swift action to make sure your health coverage doesn’t lapse:
* Get answers. Ask exactly when your current health coverage expires. * Get on a working family member’s plan. If your spouse or another working family member has insurance, this may be the least expensive option for health coverage, and you don’t have to wait for an open enrollment period. * Sign up for COBRA. If you can’t get on another working family member’s plan, this government mandate gives you the right to choose to continue coverage under your employer’s group plan for a limited time. A typical monthly COBRA premium is $300 for individual coverage and $1,000 for family coverage. But the new stimulus package signed by President Barack Obama provides assistance--through Dec. 31, 2009--to pay about 65% of your premium cost for COBRA. * Sign up the kids for a CHIP plan. If the COBRA plan is too expensive, put your children on the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). Check on state income requirements. Recent legislation extends the program to cover an additional three million children, to 11 million children. And some states allow adults to enroll in SCHIP program, too, depending on household income. * Ask about your flexible spending account. Some companies allow you to use your account balance for a short time after you’ve been laid off. * Take advantage of prescription assistance. Organizations such as Partnership for Prescription Assistance may be able to arrange for discounts of as much as 20% off your prescription drug costs if you lose your income. * Negotiate with your physician. Many doctors are giving patients a price break during these tough economic times (CNNHealth.com Feb. 5). It pays to ask.
For more information, read “Tough Times Series: Steps Before, During Layoff Make It Easier to Cope” in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.