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Health insurance for the uninsured: there are affordable options for those without coverage.

When Justin Guest was struggling to find a marketing job after graduating from college in 2003, he was lucky enough to have his talent for cutting hair, which he honed in his teenage years, to fall back on. While that allowed him to pay bills as he continued to search for the career he truly desired, it didn't provide the security of health insurance, which most corporate jobs do.

Guest, 26, is one of more than 9 million African Americans who don't have health insurance. The Census Bureau estimates that the number of uninsured Americans grew to 45 million between 2002 and 2003, and those numbers are expected to increase. Job loss and the rising cost of health insurance premiums are the biggest contributors to the growing number of the uninsured. Consider the following:

* The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that health insurance premiums rose 11.2% last year.

* Inflation, the high cost of advanced business technology, malpractice lawsuits, and increased consumer demand have helped raise health insurance costs drastically in the last decade.

* High premium costs for employer-sponsored health insurance plans are the primary reason 21% of working African Americans and 12.9% of whites go uninsured, according to Paul Fronstin, director of the Employee Benefit Research Institute's Health Research and Education Program.

Poor attitudes about the importance of health insurance also keep the self-employed uninsured. Guest, who makes about $40,000 annually between his full-time job as a barber and his part-time job delivering blood to area hospitals and clinics, resisted buying coverage because he thought it was a waste of money. It was not until he learned from his optometrist that corrective laser surgery would cost him around $5,000 that he realized the importance of health coverage. He is now ready to add the cost of insurance premiums to his $1,600 monthly expense budget.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, in addition to having insurance premiums to pay, more than half of the insured pay a deductible. "Even your automobile insurance doesn't fully cover you--if you get into an accident, you pay a deductible. That's just the way most insurance works," Fronstin explains.

The self-employed, temporarily unemployed, and employed without coverage do have options. First, they should figure out what type of insurance they need. "Do they want to protect against the small expenses that you incur frequently or do they want to protect against the large expenses that you don't incur frequently?" asks Fronstin.

You can research available plans on Websites such as www.eHealthInsurance.com and www.insure.com. Identify several plans that meet your needs then compare prices and benefits. And beware of bargain rates. "Bargain rates are often associated with less comprehensive benefits--very high deductibles and lots of exclusions, particularly pre-existing condition exclusions," Fronstin says.

Some industry associations and professional organizations also offer group and individual health plans. Your local chamber of commerce and the National Association for the Self-Employed (http://benefits.nase.org) can provide full coverage and access to discount programs under specific providers. There are also state-funded insurance programs, such as New York's Family Health Plus, that provide free health coverage to low-income families. If you're still unsure which plan offers the best deal, contact an insurance agent so they can evaluate your situation and make specific recommendations that suit your needs.

Uninsured individuals who have been laid off recently may qualify under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget and Reconciliation Act. COBRA extends an individual's prior health coverage for up to 18 months. With the variety of health insurance plans to choose from, there's sure to be one out there for everybody.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:MONEY BASICS
Author:Williams, Janelle A.
Publication:Black Enterprise
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2005
Words:602
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