Heather Kofke-Egger knows first-hand the risks of depending on a plan with skimpy benefits.
Just out of college in 2002, she could pay $450 a month for a health plan offered to new graduates, or $85 a month for a short-term plan. "I knew I was taking a risk," she said. "Plans didn't cover pre-existing conditions, but without a job lined up, I had no way to pay the [higher] premiums."
Kofke-Egger, now a health-care data professional in Chicago, bought the cheaper plan, thinking her youth and relatively good health would protect her from unexpected expenses.
Diagnosed with depression in college, Kofke-Egger was doing well upon graduation. She filled a 90-day supply of antidepressants before leaving school and hoped to have a job with health insurance by the time she needed a refill.
More from Personal Finance:
Picking the wrong Medicare plan could cost you thousands
Want to win at 401(k) investing? Try a less-is-more approach
Difficult bosses can be managed with this simple HR secret strategy
"But I wasn't able to find a job quickly, and the transition from college and stress of being unable to find a job really flared up my depression," she said. She took a low-level temp job, and her situation grew worse. A primary care doctor put her on another medication.
Without a prescription drug benefit, Kofke-Egger was paying more than $600 a month for medication and therapy. "About half my gross pay went to medical care," she said. "I was struggling to get myself to work each day."
Short-duration plans give you a feeling of safety, Kofke-Egger said, but not a full understanding of the lack of protections. "You have to read the fine print really carefully," she said. Young people may be especially vulnerable.
Kofke-Egger credits a program in Maine with allowing her to qualify for Medicaid and get complete treatment for the first time in six months. "It literally changed the trajectory of my life and career," she said, and helped her to gradually get better.
"No one expects to have a major mental health episode," Kofke-Egger said. "The coverage I bought for emergencies was useless when I needed it the most."