3. Consider Cobra coverage through a parent's plan. Or look into a high-risk pool if your state has one, especially if you have a preexisting condition. If your parent is still employed and you're aging off his or her plan as a dependent, you're eligible for Cobra coverage for up to three years. But you have to act fast -- within 63 days of losing your other insurance to protect your right to seamless coverage. With Cobra, be prepared to pay the full cost of insurance. Metcalf said she used this option for one of her children. "Although my Cobra was expensive, over $400, it was still way cheaper than buying it for her individually," she said. About two thirds of states also have high risk pools for worst-case scenarios. Georgetown University's Health Policy Institute has a free Web site that lets consumers see what their health-insurance rights are in every state. See the site.
4. Avoid policies that sound like health insurance but aren't. These include "dread disease" policies such as cancer-only coverage or accident-only plans. Discount plans may sound attractive because they accept people with preexisting conditions, but they involve paying in advance for services, Pollitz said. "If you need an operation and you can't pay $50,000 upfront for the operation, often times it will go back to the undiscounted charge, which may be two or three times that," she said. "You'll be paying that off for the rest of your life."
5. Look beyond price for comprehensive benefits and ask questions if you shop on the individual market. Some policies exclude whole categories of medical care such as prescription drugs or maternity care, or offer to cover you only if certain services are excluded. Be careful with those even if they look like a bargain now, Metcalf said. "I've heard young people say 'I don't take anything.' You might really need a really expensive drug a year from now. You could be wiped out by that."
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