No one is ever ready for the day the pink slip arrives. No one. Ever.

No matter how much the handwriting’s been on the wall. Not even if you hate the #@& job and are actually relieved.

I could write a whole post on how to handle a job loss, but there are many far more qualified than I to talk about that, and there’s certainly a ton of information online.

But one aspect I am uniquely qualified to address is the health insurance one.  And this is one decision I urge you NOT to make too hastily. 

Employers with more than 20 employees are required to offer COBRA to severed employees. This is essentially giving the employee the right to continue their group health insurance, but with the employee picking up the full tab.

It’s tempting to just default in to COBRA, since it feels like one less decision to make at a time when you’re already feeling overwhelmed.

A key point here: Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), once you’ve started COBRA, you’re considered to have coverage – and will be required to STAY with COBRA for the rest of the year unless, of course, you find a new job with health insurance benefits. Finding your own plan is no longer even an option for the rest of the year once you've started on COBRA. You'll need to wait until the next Annual Enrollment Period to check out individual health plans.

So take a breath and pause. You have 60 days in which to make the COBRA decision, so it’s smart to consider all your options. Unless you’ve already met your group plan’s annual deductible and coinsurance or have some really compelling reason to stay with the same plan, I urge you to check out the individual health insurance market.

Just like the 60-day window for COBRA, you also have 60 days from the qualifying event (in this case, the job loss) in which to submit an application for individual health insurance coverage. (If the end result of all these "windows" is that you will be without coverage for a month or two, you may want to consider a short-term policy to fill in the gap.)

(For clarification: In health insurance, ‘individual’ is the general term used for insurance you buy yourself, as opposed to group health insurance, which is under an employer. "Individual" doesn’t mean it’s for just one person; it could be for the whole family. You may see the term "private" health insurance sometimes, although that's not the term generally used in the industry. I often use the term "individual and family" in my materials just for clarity's sake, although it's overkill and definitely too wordy to keep using in my blog!)

For one thing – and this is a big ONE – your annual household income for the current year, particularly now that your job loss will be reducing that amount – may make you eligible for a subsidy that will lower the premiums on an individual health plan, perhaps substantially.

Now, of course, you can go to your state’s Marketplace - jokingly dubbed by some of us - on your own. Good luck and have fun with that. (No extra charge for the sarcasm). The Marketplace will spit out 30 – 50 plans available to you, and you get the fun of sorting through them to compare benefits and determine for which ones your doctors are in network.

But my goal is to make this LESS stressful for you, not MORE!

A qualified health insurance agent (and that topic deserves a blog post all its own!) will help you sort through all the chaff to figure out the best plan for you at the best price. Maybe going with COBRA WILL turn out to be the best option. But you’ll never know unless you take a little time with someone who understands all the ins and outs of the Affordable Care Act.

And a seasoned health insurance agent (oh, say, one who's been around the business since around 1999:-)) will use specialized software that goes through the back door of the Marketplace, slicing through the red tape as she goes.

You'll be amazed at how painless the process is with a wealth of knowledge and the right tools! Feel free to give me a call at 704-464-8040 or email me at