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April 29, 2014 at 1:00 AM

Health-care options for the unexpected layoff

Over the past few years, the debate over the Affordable Care Act has been so vitriolic that those who have employer-provided health insurance may be forgiven for covering their ears and ignoring the whole mess. It’s easy to remove yourself from the ACA fray, saying, “This issue doesn’t apply to me!”

But one day, perhaps someday soon, the issue could apply. Now that the March 31 open enrollment deadline has passed, what happens if your job disappears tomorrow? Suddenly, those intangible “Obamacare” talking points become very real — and very scary.

Fortunately, your situation isn’t as dire as it was in the pre-ACA days. For instance, you don’t need to worry about being denied coverage for a pre-existing condition. In fact, you now have a range of options if your employer’s health-care coverage runs out — some good, some expensive, some cheap, some risky. Here’s a quick rundown:

Continue with COBRA. Since 1985, COBRA allows former employees to retain coverage for up to 18 months. However, the employee is liable for 100 percent of the premiums, which can be quite pricey for workers who’ve just lost their incomes. This option is now rarely chosen.

File with the Washington Health Benefit Exchange. This is the state’s marketplace of private insurers that was set up in response to the ACA. While the deadline has come and gone, those who have been laid off after that date — and before the Nov. 15 deadline to enroll for 2015 coverage — may be eligible for a special enrollment exemption as long as they sign up within 60 days of their layoff date.

Shop around for private insurance. You may seek coverage outside of the state exchanges, as long as the plans offered meet the minimum essential coverage standards. Just remember that premiums for these plans tend to be more expensive than those in the exchanges, and will not come with any government tax breaks.

Go it alone. Contrary to common belief, it’s not illegal to go without health insurance. You can take your chances that you’ll stay healthy and pay 100 percent of medical costs out-of-pocket, but this riskiest of options will no longer be free. Under the ACA, those who are still uninsured in 2014 will be fined either $95 per person or 1 percent of their salary, whichever amount is larger. These annual fines will increase each year through 2016.

Randy Woods is a writer and editor in the Puget Sound business publishing arena and a veteran of the local job-search scene. Email him at randywoods67@gmail.com.

More in Work Life Blog | Topics: benefits, layoffs, unemployment

Blog contributors

Randy Woods Writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.

Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.

Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.

Former contributors

Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant.

Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."

Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.

Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.

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