Heres what to considerbefore you leave your jobto make the best choices for you and your family.
Should you stay or go?
In some cases, the need to keep health-care coverage could outweigh career considerations. “Ive had some patients remain in jobs even though theyve had better offers because they dont want to lose their health insurance,” says Otis Brawley, MD, chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society. "One [cancer] patient I know got a job working for the federal government, because federal health insurance doesnt allow exclusions for preexisting conditions.” Be sure to look carefully at a new employers health plan for comparison, and weigh the importance of continuing treatment with the doctors and specialists you are seeing now.
Know your COBRA rights
Under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985, commonly referred to as COBRA, you and your family have the right to retain access to your employer-provided group health insurance for up to 18 months after you leave the job. That means you will get the same coverage and the same doctors you have now. You will have to pay for 100% of the coverage (rather than sharing the cost with your employer), but it is still usually cheaper than buying an equivalent policy on your own (though not necessarily as cheap as policies with inferior benefits). If you qualify for Social Security disability benefits, you and your family can get an additional 11 months of COBRA coverage, and if you have COBRA coverage through your spouse and you get a divorce, you and your children can get an additional 18 months. For more about your COBRA rights, visit this list of frequently asked questions assembled by the U.S. Department of Labor. Individual states also offer their own assortment of protections, so be sure to look into them.
Consider alternate coverage for your children
One option that may save you money is to enroll yourself and your spouse in COBRA but get low-cost insurance for your children through government programs. Families that cant afford to buy private health insurance for their children may be able to obtain coverage for them through the federal State Childrens Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), which covers about six million American children. Every state now offers coverage for uninsured children at little or no cost, even if the parents are working. Many states impose waiting periods of three months or more dating to when the child was last covered by private health insurance, however. To find out about income limits and eligibility for your state, visit the website for Insure Kids Now!, a national campaign from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Avoid a gap in insurance coverage of more than 62 days
If you have a preexisting condition for which you are currently receiving treatment, youll want to try to avoid a gap in coverage of more than 62 days, which will make your preexisting condition subject to an exclusion period when you get new insurance coverage. “If you have a long waiting period before beginning your next job, you can take the COBRA benefit until the other company picks you up, and there would be no issue of preexisting conditions because you would be a timely entrant into the new plan,” says Richard Imbrey, a certified financial planner and insurance agent in Knoxville, Tenn.