Mind The Health-Care Gap
When you're between jobs, don't put your family at risk by skipping insurance. Protect yourself with a short-term policy
By Judy Feldman

(MONEY Magazine) – Losing (or leaving) your job is hard enough, but the prospect of losing your health coverage at the same time makes the scenario doubly fearsome. Conventional plans can be prohibitively expensive on the open market. And coverage under COBRA, the federal law that guarantees you can stay with your previous plan for 18 months, is often just as pricey. Yet affordable options do exist—and not just on a temporary basis. Health savings accounts, which were created as part of last year's Medicare overhaul, have changed the landscape of choices for times when a group plan isn't available.

But first things first: If you're suddenly in need of health insurance, check out websites such as eHealthInsurance.com and Insure.com for a baseline reading on what you and your family will have to pay for a conventional plan. And talk to at least one agent; seasoned pros can sometimes find you a better deal and can price insurers, such as Blue Cross, that aren't always part of the online-shopping engines. Find out if you're eligible for group coverage through professional or alumni associations, or even the chamber of commerce. Then read up on laws and local options in your state at ealthinsuranceinfo.net.

With any plan you find—but especially those offered through associations—check the insurer's quality rankings at nqca.org and its history of customer complaints at naic.org before you sign up. And ask a lot of questions about how long the rates are guaranteed, the history of price increases and whether specific things like prescription drugs and obstetrics carry restrictions.

Finally, look to one of the following three options.