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    Self-employment also means handling your own health care.

    WebMD Feature

    Managing Your Own Benefits

    Workers leaving their 9-to-5 jobs to set up shop for themselves often look forward to the freedom of being their own bosses, setting their own hours, and charting their own courses.

    Then sometime between the office goodbye party and the final paycheck, reality hits. Self-employed workers are also their own benefits managers, responsible for finding and paying for their own health insurance and any other benefits they may need. Where to start?

    Keeping the Company Plan

    In its 1998 survey, the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics found that more than 10 million people are self-employed, either full-time or part-time.

    The soon-to-be self-employed who are leaving a job with health care benefits may be covered under a federal law commonly called COBRA (the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconcilation Act of 1985). Under this act, group health plans sponsored by employers with 20 or more workers must let ex-employees continue their coverage for up to 18 months, although the worker pays the entire premium and it can be pricey.

    Another option is to investigate whether you can be added to your spouse's plan.

    Striking Out on Your Own

    If neither of these applies to you, begin your research by examining your health insurance needs, advises Gene Fairbrother, a spokesman for the National Association for the Self-Employed. Look at what health care services you've used in the past, and figure out what you may need in the future. "When it comes to health insurance you can't just plan for today," he says.

    It's also a good idea to research the market in your state, and find out what your state law requires of insurance carriers, says Madelyn Flannagan, spokeswoman for the Independent Insurance Agents of America, Inc., a national trade group in Alexandria, VA. Trends, rates, and options vary greatly from state to state, Flannagan says. Consider a call to your state department of insurance, or check out its Web site.

    An Array of Options

    As your own boss, you're not limited by what any one company offers in the way of health plans. You can choose whatever plan works best for you: traditional fee-for-service or a managed care plan. Another potential option is a medical savings account, says Flannagan, but this route isn't chosen often by newly self-employed workers because of the relatively high cost.

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