Lost Health Insurance and Need New Coverage: What to Do

Laid Off? Divorced? Moved? Or your employer just dropped its insurance benefit?

Whether you've recently been laid off, or your employer has decided to cut back on the cost of benefits by no longer offering health insurance, or if you've recently been divorced from the spouse or partner who supplied health insurance to your family, or maybe you've moved too far and had to leave your job behind...

For whatever reason, if you no longer have health insurance, there are some steps and considerations to help you retain insurance coverage, or find new coverage, to be sure you and your family keep your insurance protection.

A health insurance ID card.
PhotoAlto / Frederic Cirou / Getty Images

Immediate Steps When You Lose Health Insurance

  • Regardless of what your next steps might be, make sure you obtain a "letter of coverage" from the insurer you've had until now. This is not an unusual request, and it may even be provided to you before you ask for it. It simply states that the insurer has covered you for the period from ___ to ____. As you shift to another insurer, you may need to prove that you have had constant and consistent coverage to that point, and this letter is what provides that proof.
  • Look into the potential for health insurance coverage through your spouse or partner's employer. (Some, but not all states allow domestic partners to be covered). If you learn that it's a possibility, then collect information about coverage, including what it covers, and the associated costs. You'll want to compare these possibilities with your other options. Be sure to assess any alternatives against the suggestions below for choosing the right health insurance plan.
  • Determine whether you are eligible for COBRA. COBRA is the federal law that requires employers to continue coverage to employees and their families for up to 18 months after they have left that job. There are a few requirements that must be met, (for example, your employer doesn't need to offer COBRA if there are fewer than 20 employees) but in general, this will be your least expensive way of maintaining the insurance you've had. Don't be shocked, though. It will strike you as very expensive because, up until now, your employer has been paying a portion of your premium. Learn more about COBRA coverage.

Determine Your Additional Options After Losing Health Insurance

  • Figure out what other options you have for acquiring health insurance. Take a look at individual, private health insurance options and make comparisons with not only policy costs but out of pocket costs, too.
  • Depending on your family's annual income, you may be eligible for Medicaid, subsidies to pay for your insurance, or you may find you can get a break on your income taxes. The possibilities are governed by both the federal government and your state's laws. You can find out what your eligibility might be through Healthcare.gov.
  • Are you a veteran? If you served in the military and were honorably discharged, under certain circumstances you may be eligible for coverage through the Veteran's Administration (VA). The VA website provides a great tool for determining your eligibility.
  • If one or more family members aren't healthy, consider insuring them with separate plans, if they are eligible, and if that will save you money. For example, if you have a child with a medical problem, your child may be eligible for the CHIP (a state program for Children's Health Insurance Protection). Learn more about this option.
  • If one of your family members has a preexisting condition, you no longer have to worry about qualifying for health insurance. You cannot be excluded from a health care plan. This is one of the provisions of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).
  • Do you have a hobby that you can turn into a side business? If you form a business, and "hire" your spouse or an adult child, you can be considered an employer "group." Each state has small business organizations and chambers of commerce that businesses can join, and that can make them eligible for group insurance programs. Contact your local Small Business Association or Small Business Development Center (often located in community colleges) to ask about this possibility.

Insuring Your Future 

Just because you are left today looking for new options doesn't mean you have to settle for substandard insurance for the rest of your insurance life (which could last until you're 65 when you are eligible for Medicare).

Consider these additional options:

  • Find another job that does offer benefits.
  • If you are in a committed relationship with someone who already has health insurance, then check to see if your state allows "domestic partner" insurance, and if so, what insurers offer plans that include it. If not, you might consider getting married and shifting the policy to family coverage.
  • Encourage your employer to opt-in to a health insurance exchange that may be more affordable for the company, but can keep costs lower for you, too.

By Trisha Torrey
 Trisha Torrey is a patient empowerment and advocacy consultant. She has written several books about patient advocacy and how to best navigate the healthcare system.