Keeping Health Coverage When Changing Jobs

Until 2014, staying insured with a pre-existing condition will depend on what state you live in.

I have a serious medical condition, and I would like to change jobs. Is there a way that I can keep my old coverage if my new employer doesn't offer health insurance? I can't afford to lose my medical insurance, and I would be denied coverage by insurance companies if I tried to buy it on my own.

Starting in 2014, insurers will no longer be able to reject anyone for coverage or charge a higher rate because of a preexisting condition. A few states, such as New York and New Jersey, already have this requirement. If you live in another state, several consumer protections can help you keep your coverage through a former employer. Employers with 20 or more employees usually must let you continue the insurance through the federal law known as COBRA. You can continue your coverage for up to 18 months after you leave your job (some states have similar rules, called “mini-COBRA coverage,” for smaller employers). Your premiums will increase because you'll have to pay both the employer's and the employee's share of the cost, plus a 2% administrative fee, but you can't be rejected because of your health. When you leave your job, your employer is required to send you written notice explaining your rights under COBRA. You have up to 60 days after you receive the notice to sign up. (See the Department of Labor's COBRA fact sheet for more information.) After you exhaust that coverage, or if you worked for a small employer that doesn't offer COBRA, you can get a "HIPAA-eligible policy." This coverage, created by the federal law known as HIPAA, varies by state. Some states require insurers to provide policies that pick up after COBRA, or they; others designate a few companies to cover everyone, regardless of health.

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Kimberly Lankford
Contributing Editor, Kiplinger's Personal Finance

As the "Ask Kim" columnist for Kiplinger's Personal Finance, Lankford receives hundreds of personal finance questions from readers every month. She is the author of Rescue Your Financial Life (McGraw-Hill, 2003), The Insurance Maze: How You Can Save Money on Insurance -- and Still Get the Coverage You Need (Kaplan, 2006), Kiplinger's Ask Kim for Money Smart Solutions (Kaplan, 2007) and The Kiplinger/BBB Personal Finance Guide for Military Families. She is frequently featured as a financial expert on television and radio, including NBC's Today Show, CNN, CNBC and National Public Radio.