Your legal rights
If you work for a company with 20 or more employees
and you lose your job, a federal law called COBRA (for
Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act) requires your
ex-employer to let you stay on the group policy for at least
18 months, at your own expense. If you have generous coverage
paid mostly by your employer, the full premium (plus 2% for
administrative costs) could be quite a shock. Still, it's wise
to hang on to your old coverage until you're covered at a new
job or find more affordable insurance elsewhere.
A more recent federal law called the Health Insurance
Portability and Affordability Act (HIPAA) goes COBRA one better.
It says that as long as you've been covered under a group policy
within the previous 63 days, no insurer can turn you down for
coverage, even if you're seriously ill. Unfortunately, HIPAA
doesn't regulate premium costs so there's no guarantee that you can
afford the insurance you're legally entitled to.
As the number of uninsured continues to rise,
states have become increasingly active in helping individuals get
insurance, though price continues to be a problem. Twenty-two
states have so-called "high-risk pools," which guarantee insurance
to applicants whose health histories make them undesirable to
insurers. Some states have other ways of making coverage more
accessible. New York, for instance, requires insurers to use a
modified "community rating" when pricing coverage, so they can't
charge disproportionately high premiums to applicants in poor
health. For a state-by-state analysis of your rights to health
insurance, check the Website run by Georgetown University's
Institute for Health Care Research and Policy.
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