Boxes? Check. Moving van? Check. Can I use my health insurance out of state? Probably not. Summer is a popular time to plan a move, and while your moving to-do list is a mile long, don’t neglect thinking about your health insurance. Will it cover you across states — and what should you do if it doesn’t?
In general, health insurance plans won’t move with you across state borders. And if you’re relocating for a new job, your health insurance benefits may not start for up to three months. Check with your company to see when your benefits start. If you’ll be waiting a while for them to kick in, then put aside the bubble wrap and make a plan for what happens if things go wrong. Getting sick or injured could mean thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket costs, and you should be able to make the move without worrying about what will happen if you become injured or sick once you settle into your new home.
Scenario 1: I’m Changing Offices but Not Jobs
If you’re crossing state borders but working for the same national employer, your health insurance plan will likely stay intact and travel with you. However, it’s best to ask your employer to make sure.
Once you’re confident you don’t have to worry about finding a new plan, begin looking for a new physician in your network. Start this search early — when you realize you shouldn’t have tried to lift the box marked “heavy” on your own, you’ll appreciate not having to pay out-of-network costs for a sudden trip to the doctor’s office.
Scenario 2: I Have a Marketplace Plan
If you’re insured by a plan in the government’s Health Insurance Marketplace, you won’t be able to keep your plan, since most of them are based on geographical location. You could, however, qualify for a Special Enrollment Period. This allows you to change your plan outside of open enrollment after life milestones like marriage or, in this case, a relocation.
In this scenario, you can take up to 60 days after the move to enroll in a new plan, with coverage kicking in retroactively, so don’t sweat taking a few days to explore your new neighborhood. Be sure to notify healthcare.gov of your new address, then leave a Sunday or two open for health insurance plan research. But be careful not to wait too long, since if you miss your window, you’ll be stuck waiting for open enrollment.
Scenario 3: I Have a Non-Marketplace Plan
Have a plan outside of the Marketplace? Call up your provider and ask, “Can I use my health insurance out of state?” If your current plan is void once you hit the highway, you might look at a supplemental short-term policy or complementary insurance plan. Buying a temporary policy will give you time to shop for new coverage or cover you until a new workplace policy kicks in. They’re easy and quick to sign up for — you may even be able to do it online.
While until recently, temporary policies covered you up to 180 days, as of October 2, 2018, they extend to 364 days in most states. They may not cover preventive care, but they’ll help you out if you need emergency outpatient care, surgery or inpatient hospitalization. It is best to check with a lisenced insurance agent for availabilty and length of coverage in your state.
Depending on your situation, you may also be able to purchase a critical illness plan, which steps in to cover expenses related to cancer, heart attack and stroke, or a fixed indemnity plan, which pays out a fixed cash benefit for a number of injuries or illness. Don’t plan on staying on these policies forever, but they can nicely bridge a gap in your coverage during your move.
Scenario 4: I Have Too Much on My Plate to Deal With This!
If your plan isn’t through either your employer or the Marketplace, then you’ll have to do the legwork of finding a new policy before moving day. But moving is stressful — if you don’t have time to consider plans between packing up the dishes and folding sweaters, then one great option is to work with an insurance broker. These are independent insurance pros who can advise you on selecting a policy from major insurers. They also may have access to policies you can’t find on your own. They’ll do the heavy lifting, so all you need to remember to do is set the policy effective date as your moving day so you don’t have a lapse in coverage.
There are some things you can’t plan for — like when the friend helping you move accidentally drops your new 4K Ultra TV. With a little preparation, though, health insurance can be one thing you don’t have to worry about.