Health Insurance Options for the Laid-Off

Losing a job feels like having the rug pulled out from under you. But thinking about losing your health insurance can feel like they wrapped you up in that rug and threw you in the river. Here are some ways you can avoid that sinking feeling and get some coverage.

Ask your employer to extend your healthcare benefits

  • Description: It’s completely up to the employer, but it can’t hurt to ask if they would give you 3-6 months extension on your insurance as a show of appreciation for your service.
  • Advantage: This is the best case scenario since you could maintain your current plan with no additional expenses.
  • Disadvantage: It’s really just a temporary solution.


  • Description: If you are laid off, the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) act of 1986 states that must be provided with the option to buy an extension of your health coverage for up to 18 months. 
  • Advantage: If you have a pre-existing condition, COBRA may very well be your best option.
  • Disadvantage: While it is possible in some cases to negotiate with the company laying you off for them to pay for your COBRA benefits, in most cases you are going to pay for it yourself… and potentially pay A LOT at that.

Your spouse’s plan

  • Description: If you act within 30 days of losing your job, you should be able to join your husband or wife’s plan without having to wait for open enrollment.
  • Advantage: In many cases this can be the most cost-effective approach and give you protection from being excluded for a pre-existing condition.
  • Disadvantage: You need to act quickly, or you may have to wait a while.

Individual plan

  • Description: You can use an insurance agent or broker to buy a plan on the open market or go to to compare prices. Keep in mind that with any option you choose you need to make a decision within 62 days from when your previous coverage was terminated since waiting longer can mean you could be excluded from coverage for pre-existing conditions.
  • Advantage: You get to make your own choice on the plan that best suits you.
  • Disadvantage: It may be extremely difficult to get affordable coverage if you have an already-present medical issue.


  • Description: Depending on your state’s rules, you may be eligible to receive government assistance for the medical care of you or your family via Medicaid. If you are 65 or older, you can qualify for Medicare.  
  • Advantage: Quite simply, this could be the only option available in certain situations.
  • Disadvantage: The application process can be lengthy, leaving you without coverage while your data is processed.

Catastrophic or short-term insurance

  • Description: Designed to fill in gaps in insurance, these plans offer scaled-back coverage.  
  • Advantage: It keeps you from being devastated financially should a major medical need arise.
  • Disadvantage: It won’t cover every type of doctor visit and isn’t a good option for those not in great health to begin with. These types of plans can also mean high deductibles and out-of-pocket costs.

Your state’s high-risk pool

  • Description: These state-run programs create an insurance opportunity for those denied other forms of insurance.
  • Advantage: This could be an option for someone trying to fill a temporary gap in their insurance.
  • Disadvantage: These programs vary because they are organized and administered by each state, but they have a reputation for being expensive.

High deductible health plan

  • Description: Linked to a health savings account, this coverage allows you put money away toward future medical expenses.
  • Advantage: Monthly premiums are usually lower and you are contributing pretax dollars. The money you contribute to the account rolls over from year-to-year.
  • Disadvantage: If you do have a significant medical issue, you may not have enough saved up to cover it when it happens. Probably not a good option for people of a certain age or those not currently in good health

Other group plans
Employers aren’t the only organizations that pool people together to get better prices on health insurance. Professional organizations, community service groups, alumni associations, clubs or religious groups that you are affiliated with may provide some options too.

Other government programs
A great way to learn about other state or federal program you might qualify for is to the Foundation for Health Coverage Education’s website at

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