Losing health coverage can be a frightening prospect. Here are your options.
When Sara Preto lost her father last April, she also lost something else – her health insurance.
Losing your insurance when you're grieving for a parent is a life experience anyone would be happy to do without. For Preto, a 30-year-old public relations executive in New York City, it was particularly frightening to discover she was no longer covered: She has ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease that, if untreated, can lead to life-threatening complications.
"Being covered by insurance is incredibly important to me and my illness," Preto says.
She was previously covered her father's insurance simply because the insurer allowed it. Her father, a retired photographer, was a long-time customer, and the insurer was allowing Preto to remain on the policy until she turned 31. But after her father died on April 7, the insurance company dumped her on April 30.
Every day, Preto takes four pills to treat her colitis. "Out of pocket, the prescription is super expensive," says Preto, who discovered she was no longer covered when she went to refill her medication in early May. Hoping to resolve this situation quickly, she asked her pharmacist to prescribe her enough pills for four days.
"It cost me $200," Preto says.
[Read: 4 Signs You Have the Wrong Health Insurance Plan .]
With the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act signed into law, how the nation is handling health insurance has obviously changed in recent years. But it still can be a frightening and frustrating prospect to lose your health insurance. So what should you do if you no longer have it?
You don't have to wait until open enrollment. Companies often designate a certain time of the year, usually the last couple of months, as an open enrollment period when employees can make changes to their insurance. The Health Insurance Marketplace, the health insurance exchange run by the federal government and numerous individual states,
has its own open enrollment period from Nov. 15 through Feb. 15, 2015, although according to HealthCare.gov, those dates aren't set in stone.
But if you need insurance and don't have it, chances are, you can apply and buy health insurance through the exchange now.
You have to wait if you have insurance but just don't like it and want something better or less expensive from the Health Insurance Marketplace. Otherwise, "people can qualify for a special enrollment period if they have a qualifying life event, such as getting married or divorced, a change in family size, a change in income, relocating to a new area or losing existing health coverage. These events entitle them to a special 60-day grace period to use the Obamacare exchanges," says Laura Adams, senior analyst for InsuranceQuotes.com.
The media representatives at HealthCare.gov didn't supply anyone for an interview, but they suggested that anyone who needs health insurance outside of open enrollment check out healthcare.gov/how-can-i-get-coverage-outside-of-open-enrollment .
Adams says Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program never stop accepting enrollments.
Get a broker or an agent. If you've just lost your job or aren't getting coverage through your company, and you're wondering how people get health insurance, you could call an insurance company on your own – or, as noted, go to HealthCare.gov. You can also get an agent or a broker.
An agent works for one insurance company, and a broker navigates the entire health insurance market. The advantage of using an agent is that he or she may be able to get you a better rate and intimately knows the company that will be providing your insurance. A broker has the independence to navigate the entire health insurance market and can possibly find you the best deal. They both make commissions from the health insurance companies, and it's impossible to say who you'll fare better with.
But there are good arguments to go with a professional rather than try to buy health insurance yourself.