There are many subsidized programs available that can make health insurance more affordable for the average person. These programs can vary widely from state to state and thorough research should be undertaken in your state or region to find what program options may be the best fit for you.
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In the past, the most common and most affordable health plans were group programs, offered as a part of many company benefit programs. These health plans were often paid for in full, or at least in part, by employers and were used as incentives to maintain relationships with valued long-term employees and to motivate talented new applicants to accept employment.
Haven’t employers cut back on benefit programs and slashed contributions to health plans?
Employers have been adversely affected by rising insurance costs as well as other costs of doing business that have increased in recent years. Many businesses, feeling the economic pinch have reduced or even eliminated benefit packages.
The economic downturn in recent years, and resultant belt tightening have also caused many employers to abandon their formerly generous contributions to their employees’ insurances. These changes have shifted much of the financial burden for coverage, to the employees.
Many have been able to continue coverage, but many others have been forced to allow their coverage to lapse. Many more individuals have lost their jobs entirely and now find themselves not only without health insurance, but also without the means to obtain new coverage.
What happens if I had insurance and lost my job?
Federal law requires many employers to allow for continuation of group health coverage for a period of time following an employee’s resignation or termination of employment. This extension of coverage is referred to as COBRAcoverage, named for the legislative act that created it, and applies to companies with more than 20 employees.
How long will my insurance continue under COBRA?
The minimum extension period under federal law is 60 days. However, many states have enacted their own laws, which extend this coverage even further. Minnesota extends protection to employees of companies with two or more employees, while Ohio offers extensions of coverage up to 18 months for qualified individuals.
Will I have to pay more for COBRA coverage?
Yes! You’ll be charged at the group rate, but your employer will no longer be making contributions to your insurance premiums since your employment has ended, so you’ll most often be expected to pay the full group premium out-of-pocket.
That would be too expensive! What other alternatives are available?
If you are unemployed and collecting benefits through a state insurance program, there are often options for lower cost, basic health coverage. New York, for example, instituted its Healthy New York plan several years ago.
Eligibility for the Healthy New York program is based on income and once qualified; a recipient may renew his or her coverage annually, dependent on the recipient’s current financial situation. Coverage options include regular and high deductible programs with an available, optional prescription plan.
The subsidized plans in New York are offered directly through regular health insurance agencies such as Blue Cross/Blue Shield, and Excellus Blue Choice. Consumers may select the organization of their choice, as rates are set by the state and the same for each agency. Premiums will vary from county to county, with the most expensive area being New York City.
Massachusetts has created its own subsidized health insurance program, Commonwealth Care, as part of a massive legislative effort, which took place five years ago. This program has been very effective in enrolling many previously uninsured individuals and families. Massachusetts is among the leaders in health care reform, and boasts that more than 98% of its residents now have health insurance.
Are there any free health care programs?
Federal law provides for free emergency hospital care and treatment for indigents and others with no other means to pay for these services. There are numerous local clinics and treatment centers, in large urban areas that offer free services to the public.
It is always best to have some sort of insurance protection, if at all possible. For those with the lowest income and fewest resources, the federally mandated Medicaid program will provide comprehensive coverage for 100% of an eligible recipient’s medical expenses. Medicaid qualifications and benefits vary from state to state, so check with your local authority or visit the national Medicaid website.
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