Sunday, October 11, 2009

What to do if you have no health insurance

catastrophic health insurance

For those who don't have health insurance, here are tips provided by insurance brokers, health plans and

1Don't procrastinate. Even if healthcare reform passes, it's likely that it will be several years before many provisions take effect. Not getting insurance can be -- well, gambling with your life. If you're young and healthy, you may feel you can live forever. But having a major illness without insurance can literally be a death sentence. The American Cancer Society reports uninsured women with breast cancer are 20 percent more likely to die than those who have coverage. The key is this: If you have health insurance, you can keep it. State law says that if an insurer sells you an individual policy, you can't be dropped. (There are exceptions, including persons moving out of state.) If you have no insurance and then try to buy it when a major illness strikes, you're out of luck.

If you're laid off and have the opportunity, take COBRA. The government is temporarily offering to pay 65 percent of the cost for up to nine months. The older you are and the more physical conditions you have, the more you need COBRA. It runs out after 18 months, but laws require insurance companies to offer you conversion coverage, which can be expensive but will keep you covered.

Be patient and persistent in researching the individual market. The choices can be numbing -- high deductible, low deductible, barebones, maximum life benefit, annual benefit, size of insurer network, health savings account. Insurance brokers and websites such as provide a good chance to shop. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida -- -- helps customers narrow options to meet needs. The most important factor may be cost. That likely means going for a lower-cost, high-deductible policy that essentially offers catastrophic coverage if you get really sick. In all cases, read the fine print about lifetime limits and total out-of-pocket.

Talk to your healthcare provider about your financial situation. Some doctors offer discounts -- if you pay at the time of service.

Many possibilities exist for getting help on prescription drugs. Walgreens offers substantial discounts for those who purchase an annual card at $20 per individual, $35 per family. CVS offers a free card, saying it can save an average of 20 to 30 percent. The Florida Discount Drug Card is available for those over 60 without drug insurance or for the uninsured under 60 who earn less than $32,490 for an individual or $66,150 for a family of four. More information at or 1-866-341-8894. The Together RX Access card, created by major pharmaceutical companies and boasting of savings of 25 to 40 percent, is open to the uninsured individuals who earn less than $45,000 or $90,000 for a family of four. More information at or 1-800-444-4106. Partnership for Prescription Assistance, another Big Pharma effort, 475 programs for the uninsured, offering free or discounted drugs, depending on need. More information at or 1-888-477-2669.