Every corner of the nation is reeling from the recession. The government recently reported that America lost 2.6 million jobs last year. And the national unemployment rate now stands at 7.6 percent.
Because health insurance is usually tied to employment, many folks are at risk of losing their coverage.
Fortunately, there are several ways that newly unemployed workers can obtain affordable health insurance, even if they're in less-than-perfect health.
One option is individual health insurance on the private market. Individual policies can cover just one person or an entire family. There are thousands of agents across the country who can help you find an affordable policy that suits your needs. The "agent finder" tool on the National Association of Health Underwriters' (NAHU) website at www.nahu.org can be a great resource for locating a qualified health insurance professional near you.
For those in poor health who may have trouble finding an affordable private policy, several other options exist.
If you're recently unemployed, look into obtaining health insurance through COBRA.
COBRA is a 1985 law that allows most workers to keep the coverage they got through their employer for up to 18 months after they leave their jobs, provided they pay the premium plus a 2 percent administrative fee.
Sometimes COBRA coverage can be a little pricey. If that's the case, your spouse may be able to add you to his or her employer-provided policy.
If not, the federal government may soon be able to help. The economic stimulus bill signed into law this week includes a 65-percent subsidy to help recently unemployed Americans pay for COBRA coverage. Effectively, laid-off workers will be able to purchase insurance for 65 percent off - which is no small thing in these tough economic times.
There are also many private and public assistance programs for which you might be eligible. The NAHU website's free "Healthy Access Database" contains a comprehensive list of all healthcare assistance programs - some of which may be in your area. A third of America's uninsured population is already eligible for public health coverage. So be sure to log onto NAHU's website to see if there's a program out there for you.
The current economic downturn is leaving no one untouched, but there are several ways to protect yourself - and your health. Maintaining good insurance coverage in the face of a job loss can be easy for consumers willing to do a little homework.
[Janet Trautwein is the Executive Vice President and CEO of the National Association of Health Underwriters.]