I have health insurance through my employer currently, but times are tough for the company. I’ve heard that they might drop the plan. Will I be able to buy health insurance on my own? I’ve also heard that even if health reform still goes on and employers are forced to offer a plan, companies will just pay the penalty and drop it anyway. If that happens, what will I do to find a plan that I can afford?
Okay for Today, but Worried for Tomorrow
Dear Okay for Today but Worried for Tomorrow,
The answer to both of your questions is yes, you will be able to buy health insurance on your own if your employer drops its plan. This is true whether your employer drops your plan this year, or in 2014, when employers may be required to offer a plan.
In 2012, your options for buying a plan on your own – also called “individual” or “non-group” plans – are fairly limited but they are there. If you or your family members have any health problems, try to get onto a new plan within 63 days of when your old plan ends. If you go more than 63 days, then your new plan can refuse to pay for your existing health issues. I suggest that you visit Healthcare.gov and the Maine Bureau of Insurance’s consumer brochures for more information about your options.
In 2014, if health reform survives the Supreme Court case, you may have more options for buying coverage on your own. There will be health insurance “exchanges” where buyers and sellers will transact. Since health reform will require almost everyone to have health insurance, there may be a more robust market for individual plans.
As you point out, employers can just pay a penalty and drop their health plans. Indeed, the penalty costs less than health insurance coverage. Time will tell what employers do, but surveys of employers show that only one in 10 plans to take this route.