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How Not to Lose Your Health Coverage

You can stay insured after a job loss—and it's so important that you do.

When Pete Daly was diagnosed with malignant melanoma in 2002, he had to quit his engineering job during his treatment. He faced more than a loss of income—he lost his health insurance because, like nearly two-thirds of Americans under 65, he was enrolled in a health plan through work.

The Madison, Wis., resident explored his options in the state, county and municipal insurance pool to find his way through the health coverage maze to a happy ending.

If you’re facing a pink slip, you may have to do what Daly did and research the best way to remain covered. Here are several options to consider:

Your spouse’s plan

If your spouse works and has coverage through an employer, ask to be added to the policy. Often, the company picks up part of the tab, making this one of the least expensive options.

Even if the company offers enrollment only at certain times of the year, you should be able to join the plan through what’s known as “special enrollment,” says Amy Turner, special assistant with the U.S. Department of Labor. Just like the birth or adoption of a baby, a spouse’s loss of insurance is considered a “special event” and should trigger an enrollment opportunity.

However, you need to make your request within 30 days of losing coverage, says Kevin Lucia, assistant research professor with the Georgetown Health Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. If you wait, the employer doesn’t have to include you right away.


For Pete Daly, the federal law known as COBRA—for Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act—was the key to continuing his coverage.

COBRA requires companies with at least 20 employees to offer workers who are departing (for reasons other than gross misconduct) the option of keeping their group health insurance. Usually, coverage through COBRA extends for 18 months, although it can go longer in certain cases.

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