By Vivian Marino
AP BUSINESS WRITER
On any given day, tens of millions of Americans may be without health care coverage.For many, it's only temporary. The gap mayoccur after college graduation when adult childrenare no longer covered under their parents' plans, forthose between jobs or starting new ones, or evenwith retirees on Medicare traveling abroad.
Although this uninsured period is usually brief --often lasting just a few months, at most it can bedangerous if a serious illness or injury should occur.
"I know a young person planning to enter graduate school who decided to forgo coverage one summer and came down with a rare nerve disorder,"said Jonathan Pond, a Boston-based financial adviser. "She spent weeks in intensive care. . . (and incurred) hundreds of thousands of dollars in bills.
"She lost a house that she had just inherited fromher grandmother. . . and faces (medical) paymentsfor the next 20 years."
There are several options available to prevent financial catastrophes like that one.
The most common one is for individuals to continue the group coverage offered by their former employers until they become eligible to participate in anew employer's plan.
Employees can purchase COBRA benefits (namedfor the Consolidated Omnibus Budget ReconciliationAct of 1986), but they'll have to pay the entire premium, plus administrative costs. Coverage can be continued for up to 18 months, and in some instances,up to 36 months,
Young adults who may no longer be eligible fortheir parents' group policy, either because of theirage or because they are no longer full-time students,might be able to continue coverage under COBRA,but COBRA benefits usually aren't available undercollege health plans.
Another option is to purchase health insurancethrough a professional group or trade association.
"You can join a local chamber of commerce orstate business association, which are basically in thebusiness of offering group coverage," Pond said.
A third option is to purchase short-term health insurance, which typically provides coverage for oneto six months. Such plans are often indemnity plans,which means individuals are free to choose theirown doctors or hospitals.
But unlike most regular health care plans, thereare usually many restrictions. For example, manytemporary plans do not cover maternity costs aswell as some pre-existing health problems. Also,some states don't permit the sale of short-term policies.
Costs vary by age, state where the insured partyresides, deductibles and coverage plans chosen, Thehigher the deductible, the lower the premium. Also.in some instances, the shorter the term. the less costly the coverage.
A 40-year-old nonsmoking man from Miami, tor instance, can expect to pay $391.68 for a standardthree-month policy with a $250 deductible offered byFortis Health Insurance Co. in Milwaukee(www.healthaxis.com). That same policy with a$2,500 deductible would come to $195.84.
A 23-year-old nonsmoking woman from Los Angeles would pay $180.58 initially, then $57.02 a monthfor a 95-day standard policy with a $2,500 deductible,renewable for up to 185 days.
For the traveling retiree covered by Medicare,short-term travel insurance may be sufficient. Traditional Medicare, many Medicare HMO plans and Medigap policies generally don't cover medical prob-lems abroad. The insurance department in yourstate should be able to provide a list of insurancecarriers that offer temporary health insurance plansdesigned for international travel.
Other carriers or agents can provide quotes overthe telephone or through the Internet. Some Websites to check: www.insure.com;www.goldenrule.com; www.quickquote com;www.champion-ins.com.