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Gerri Willis Commentary:
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Post-layoff health care

If you lose your benefits, you need to figure out your health care rights, your options and if you can get government help.

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By Gerri Willis, CNN

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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Losing your job doesn't just mean losing your paycheck. It also means losing benefits.

Here's what you need to know about your rights when it comes to your health care benefits.

1. Know your options

The first thing to do if you lose coverage is determine whether you can get on a working family member's plan.

Even though open enrollment is long over, federal law requires that your spouse's plan allow you to get coverage in a process called "special enrollment."

This is by far the cheapest of the options. But you have to do this within 30 days of losing eligibility for coverage.

There's no forgiveness on these deadlines, so act quickly.

2. Consider COBRA

If you can't get coverage under special enrollment, consider COBRA, this is also a federally mandated program. It allows people who are laid off to continue their existing company coverage - trouble is, you'll pay the full cost of the program.

Under your employer's health care plan, here's what you would be responsible for.

You'll pay $721 for an individual policy and $3,354 for a family policy. Now, under COBRA, you'll pay nearly $4,800 for an individual policy and almost $13,000 for a family policy.

Again, there are important deadlines: You have 60 days to elect COBRA and 44 days to make the first premium.

3. Get help

Medicaid and S-CHIP programs are options for people who meet income guidelines. State Insurance Health Care Programs cover children, and Medicaid covers adults.

The final option: Buying coverage in the individual market. This is also the most expensive option because you don't get the benefits of pricing for a group.

Your state insurance department can help you find insurers in the individual market in your state.

The Department of Labor has a toll-free number for its Employee Benefits Security Administration. Call 866-444-3272 to reach benefits advisors all over the country, in 60 different locations.

One word of warning here: If you go 63 days or more without insurance and then find a job, your new employer can refuse to cover a pre-existing condition. To top of page

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