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Out of work! Could it happen to you?

Hey, I know you don't want doom and gloom but one of us has to ask the hard questions. So, with the housing market in free fall and price inflation taking off, jobs are less secure. Now is the time to spend a few minutes thinking about what you would do if the unthinkable happened to you.

The headline. If you've been wise with your money, you'll probably survive. It's a rerun of Aesop's fable called The Ant and the Grasshopper. The grasshopper spends all summer singing whilst the ant toils to fill his home with food for the winter. When it gets cold, the grasshopper dies of hunger. This is a dramatic way of telling you it's better to make save and preparations for the worst before the worst happens. If nothing happens, you're actually better off all round.

Let's start off with the most vital question. What's going to happen to your group health plan? All this time, you've been sheltered from the hard world of personal health insurance. What are you entitled to receive? Leaving to one side the questions of your severance pay, unemployment compensation and whether your employer will pay for outplacement services to help you find your next job, look at health insurance coverage through COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985).

All employees, their spouses and dependents have a right to continue coverage under the basic group health plans (both medical and dental) for eighteen or thirty-six months. Wellness plans, life insurance, savings accounts and disability plans are excluded. So long as your employer had twenty or more employees, and terminates you without a justification of gross misconduct, the rights will probably apply. Your employer should have sent you and your spouse a notice about your rights. If your spouse and children are covered under the plan, they have separate rights to claim COBRA coverage.

You all have sixty days from the date coverage under the plan ends to elect for coverage under COBRA. You must make your first premium payment within forty-five days and thereafter at regular monthly intervals. You will lose coverage if you miss a payment. If there is a slight shortfall in the amount, i.e. $50 or 10% of the premium, your employer cannot terminate. This means it is always better to send some money rather than no money. If you are short, you get an additional thirty days to make up the payment. Use this breathing space to find new employment, secure in the knowledge that your health insurance needs are covered. That is, assuming you have laid the money by like Aesop's ant.


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