Friday, June 8, 2007

How to Find Health Insurance

If you've been paying attention to the presidential campaign (i.e., if you're masochistic and have a really big antacid budget), you know that the candidates are rolling out proposals for reforming the U.S. health insurance system. It's good that they're trying to tackle the problem. But all of their proposals are just talk for now. The new president won't be sworn in until 2009, and actual reform will occur, if at all, months or years later.

So, we'll be stuck for a while with our current patchwork, crazy quilt, easy-to-slip-through-the cracks system. A major health problem can really mess up your life. A major uninsured health problem can force you into bankruptcy as well--more than any other reason, medical expenses are the cause of personal bankruptcies. So, how do you find health insurance coverage?

1. Hold onto what you have. If you're covered under a group health insurance plan, and are going lose coverage (e.g., because of a layoff), use your COBRA rights to stay insured. Under COBRA (a federal program), you have to pay the full cost of your continued coverage, but you remain insured for up to 18 months. COBRA lets you stay covered while you look for another job. Also, if you have a spouse, find out if you can be brought under your spouse's plan or policy.

2. Get information from your state government. At the federal level, health insurance has been mostly the subject of endless windbaggery. At the state level, there's been quite of bit of action, and your state government could be a valuable resource. Many states have programs to insure those that can't find coverage anywhere else. All states at least provide information to their residents. An easy way to tap into your state's resources is to go to This is a website maintained by the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute, and provides a brochure for each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The brochure will give you information about your options, including any state program to help people who otherwise can't find coverage. Also, this website has a list of the states that have "high risk pools" (i.e., programs to help people who may otherwise be uninsurable).

If you think you're eligible for Medicare, you may be able to find assistance with Medicare questions through the State Health Insurance Assistance Program ( To find a counselor, you connect through this website to the office for your state.

3. Contact a health insurance assistance program. There are a variety of programs at the state and regional level that might be able to help you. You can find the ones in your state by going to the program locator provided by an organization called FamiliesUSA (

4. Contact a professional association or union. If you belong to a professional association or union, you may be able to buy health insurance through the organization. This is often the case with professional associations (such as bar associations for lawyers). Unions generally try to negotiate insurance coverage through the employer. But that isn't universally the case. Some unions may offer health insurance for members meeting certain conditions (e.g., Actors Equity, the union for actors).

5. Contact the big health plans. Large, well-established health plans often sell individual policies. Blue Cross-Blue Shield and Kaiser Permanente are well-known plans where you could start. A quick read of the Yellow Pages or a search on the Internet will give you the names of other plans you could contact. Individual policies will be more expensive than group policies, and there may be exclusions or limitations that you wouldn't find in group policies. But they are better than nothing.

6. Talk to a health insurance agent. You can consult a health insurance agent. Plenty of them are listed in the Internet. But it may best to find one the old fashioned way, through a personal referral. When it comes to a service-oriented business like insurance, a personal referral is likely to be far more informative than an Internet ad.

For many more hints and ideas about personal finance, please go to the Summer Heat edition of the Festival of Under 30 Finances:

For more shopping hints, please go to the 17th Carnival of Shopping at

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