Dec. 15, 2008 -- With the markets roiling and the ranks of the unemployed growing, it's time to take a cold, hard look at a worker's worst-case scenario: being laid off.
1. Check with your spouse or partner.
If you're married or have a partner who has health insurance through their employer, look into getting added to their plan via special enrollment. That's often the most cost-effective option, and you don't have to wait until the open enrollment period -- but you need to do it within 30 days of losing eligibility for other coverage, according to background information posted on the Department of Labor's web site.
2. Consider COBRA.
COBRA (the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1986) allows you to keep the health insurance you had through your employer for up to 18 months.
COBRA will cost more than what got taken out of your former paycheck. Besides paying what you paid as an employee, you'll also pick up the tab that your employer covered, and you may also pay a 2% administrative fee.
"That can be cost prohibitive, but that is an option for people; they are able to keep that coverage during the time of transition," says Robert Zirkelbach, director of strategic communications for America's Health Insurance Plans, a trade group for health insurance companies.
Still, the U.S. Department of Labor's web site notes that "while COBRA rates may seem high, you will be paying group premium rates, which are usually lower than individual rates."
If your company closed or went bankrupt, COBRA won't be available; it's only an option if your company's health care plan is still around. And you have to enroll in COBRA; companies with at least 20 employees are usually required to offer COBRA coverage and to let employees know about that, according to the Department of Labor.