Uncovered: Insurance shapes job hunt

We knew a year in advance that my husband's job would end this fall. So he conducted a fairly typical job hunt for a while, but his searching went into overdrive when we found out that our insurance payments (COBRA) once his job ended would be $1,500 a month. His job hunt became an insurance hunt.

This insurance problem began because he could apply only to jobs that came with insurance, and many top institutions on his list offered no insurance plan. People who felt unconstrained by labor laws offered advice in interviews like, "Can't your spouse provide insurance?" (The answer, of course, is no. I am a freelancer.)

Two weeks before my husband's job ended, I started throwing a fit. I called him irresponsible, which is not actually true, because he's a good job hunter and he had had more than 20 interviews. I yelled that he was ruining my reproductive life, which is not totally true, but I want to get pregnant again, and I'm over 35, which is old in fertility years, and I cannot imagine getting pregnant without insurance.

I pointed out that we absolutely cannot have a special needs child without good health insurance. This last part is true. I probably should have started there, but emotions run high during a job hunt. And besides, I never in a million years imagined that I would be someone dependent on my husband for anything. But we need insurance.

So my husband decided to get a stupid job at a big company so we could have health insurance until he found a job on his career path.

I told him to start at Starbucks because you have to work there only 20 hours a week to get insurance. But my husband said he couldn't imagine doing a service job. I thought about how much it takes just to get him to clean up the cat litter, and I agreed.

So he went to Old Navy first. My husband has a master's degree from a top film school, and he has held producer positions at top entertainment companies. I asked him if he left all that off the Old Navy application. He said he couldn't even find the application. The Old Navy store manger said you have to apply online. The website says you have to apply in a store.

My husband went to Target. He said there was a line to use the kiosk to apply for a job even though the sign above the kiosk said, "We have no jobs." It was a depressing day.

It's one thing to search for entry-level jobs after a fruitful, 15-year career. But to be searching for them unsuccessfully is very sad.

Fortunately, the job nightmare ended the next day, when two offers from great non-profits came in. And the next day, two more offers. Then he weighed offers. At one, the pay was low but the insurance was covered. At another the pay was high but the insurance was so bad that we couldn't really use it. One company had a great insurance program and good salaries, but the premiums that we would pay out of pocket were sky-high. We may as well buy COBRA.

So my husband did something that we would have never have thought of doing before our insurance crisis of the past months: He asked for a 20 percent increase in salary to offset the costs of insurance. At first the company was shocked to hear the request, but in fact, so few people actually used the company's insurance that no one knew how expensive it was. And, in the end, my husband got the 20 percent increase.

Insurance is worth a lot of money. It can change an offer, and it can open the door for salary negotiations. Insurance premiums are to a job offer what shipping is to an online purchase: You don't know if it's a good deal until you see both numbers. So read all the fine print for your insurance package, and then don't be afraid to negotiate, because the cost of the company's insurance shouldn't kill your paycheck.

Meanwhile, things have settled down for us: My husband is not loading boxes at Target, and I am not throwing fits– at least not about the insurance.