Uncovered: Negotiate insurance as part of salary

We knew a year in advance when my husband's job would end. So he conducted a 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.

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 pointed out that we have a special needs child and must have good health insurance. 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 he really wanted.

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. 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 manager 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 searching 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 cost 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.
Penelope Trunk has worked for many businesses and even started a few, and now she's too busy to write her column, so this advice is reprinted from an earlier edition of the Hook.

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