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Ask the Health Insurance Expert

I was laid off several months ago and can't afford the premiums for COBRA or a private health plan. Are there any other ways to buy health insurance?

That depends on whether you need health insurance for just yourself, or your family as well.

If you have children, see if they're eligible for the federal Medicaid program or the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which is available in every state and provides health insurance coverage for children of families who meet low-income guidelines. Income guidelines for CHIP vary by state but are generally more liberal than guidelines for Medicaid. Learn more at the program's website, InsureKidsNow.gov.

Individual health insurance options

If you need coverage only for yourself, have you compared health insurance quotes for a variety of health plan options from different insurance companies? High-deductible plans, for instance, feature lower-than-average premiums in exchange for paying higher-than-average deductibles--and new plans must cover 100 percent of preventive care before you've met the deductible. Although you would pay more out-of-pocket costs than you would with a low-deductible plan, you'd have a financial safety net in case you were injured or became seriously ill and racked up tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills.

Other ways to find affordable health care

If you can't find an affordable health insurance plan, then check with your county and state to see if you qualify for any of their programs to help pay for health care. The Foundation for Health Coverage Education provides lists of programs for each state and a telephone help line for uninsured people.

Beyond that, become a savvy health care consumer. Compare prices and negotiate discounts with health care providers. For more, see Don't be rude! The etiquette for asking your doctor for price breaks and free drugs and how to haggle for a lower price with your doctor.

Unfortunately, you face a steep challenge, and the way forward may not be a simple, straight line. You might have to cobble together a number of options to help you afford care.

For more, see 6 health insurance safety nets for the uninsured.

Last updated: Apr. 12, 2011