Many unaware of real cost of health insurance

Concerns over job security are pushing consumers to evaluate health insurance alternatives

On Friday, the government is set to release April's employment report and a number of economists expect the number to jump again.

Last month, the economy shed 663,000 jobs and the unemployment rate hit 8.5 percent, according to the Department of Labor.

The government reported, "Since the recession began in December 2007, 5.1 million jobs have been lost, with almost two-thirds 3.3 million) of the decrease occurring in the last 5 months."

Given these figures, a record number of American families are likely struggling with the best way to maintain health insurance coverage that suits the needs of both adults and children.

Workers who have lost a job, quit or been subject to a reduction in the number of hours of employment for reasons other than gross misconduct are eligible for a temporary - typically 18 month - continuation of their employer's group health plan, commonly referred to as COBRA.

According to the Department of Labor, spouses and children are also eligible for extended coverage should a death, divorce or other qualifying situation occur.

However, there are some limitations - group health plans for employers with 20 or more employees are subject to COBRA, others are not. For some who have lost their job and worked at a company with fewer employees, finding affordable health insurance has proven more difficult in the current economy.

The Philadelphia Inquirer recently profiled a former landscaping employee at a small business who is facing mounting hospital bills but has little hope at retaining health insurance through his former employer because he was denied an extension to coverage under COBRA.

The newspaper reports that 40 states have passed new legislation effectively creating what they dubbed "mini-COBRA," which extends benefits to small businesses. Unfortunately, Pennsylvania - where the former landscaper worked - is not among that group.

It's employees like this, some who just cannot afford the generally expensive COBRA premiums or those who have met the limit of COBRA coverage, who are searching elsewhere for affordable health coverage.

To help compare the options available through individual health plans from other providers many are turning to the internet to do research. Experts encourage individuals to have a clear idea of what they need from a health insurance provider.

For example, women planning to get pregnant need to ensure that their new health insurance offers maternity coverage, says one source.

Some consumers however, are simply struggling with the overall affordability of healthcare - be it COBRA or an individual plan. According to a recent consumer survey, 32 percent of Americans currently working believe they could not afford to purchase health insurance on their own should they lose their job.

Another two-thirds of those polled believe they could only pay for coverage for six months after losing a job.

The government has recently taken steps to help families afford health insurance recognizing the need to get all those who need coverage on a plan. The IRS explains that workers who have involuntarily lost a job between September 1, 2008 and December 31, 2009 are eligible for a 65 percent government subsidy on COBRA continuation premium payments.

This credit - which would require workers to pay just 35 percent of the premium - can last up to nine months, says the IRS.

Gathering information about health insurance options and acting in a timely manner should job loss occur are recurring tips from government and industry experts.

Learn how easy and convenient shopping for health insurance can be. Get your free health insurance online quotes today!

Posted: May 05, 2009

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