The nagging pain of a chipped tooth in the back of his mouth constantly reminds Jarrett Mason about what adulthood has not brought him: medical and dental benefits.

The 21-year-old is not alone. Many students graduating from high school and college will no longer be eligible for medical coverage under their parents' plans.

Usually, once children are 18 and not in college full-time, they lose coverage under their family's employer-sponsored group plan. Rarely, do they seek coverage on their own.

The wake-up call does not come until the first major accident or illness, and the prohibitive costs that accompany those.

But it is an unnecessary gamble. Options exist to bridge the medical insurance gap between graduation and the first job. Some are affordable; others cost more. The trick is knowing what you need and where to find it.

“Graduates are worried about their future,” says David Andrews, vice president of product management for Assurant Health. “But health insurance is the part that gets left behind.”

Mason falls under that category.

He graduated from high school three years ago and went to work for Albertson's. He says steep union fees prompted him to quit the $8.39-an-hour job that came with a benefits package.

Now, he lives with his mother. This summer, he hopes to take an art class at Diablo Valley College. He has a job application pending at Mervyn's.

Urgent dental care, such as his chipped tooth, would be covered by most medical insurance plans. But Mason lives with the pain because he has more pressing concerns.

“Not having benefits, yeah, it's tough,” he says. “I used to skateboard all the time. Now, I worry about breaking my leg and having to go to the hospital. You got to be careful when you don't have health benefits, but I've got bigger worries. I need a job to pay my bills. That's how I got to spend my time – finding a job.”

Most of the options for students depend on a their health and living circumstances. Here are a few examples:

COBRA: Best for graduates with a pre-existing health condition, especially one requiring regular treatment. It extends the coverage provided by their parents' medical plan for a period of time, usually six months. However, individuals may have to pay the entire premium, meaning this option could cost $300 to $500 a month.

Temporary/short-term : Covers most graduates, whether remaining in state or traveling, but only for a short period of time, usually no more than 18 months. It is the best option for graduates with imminent employment or for those facing a waiting period before their employer's plan takes effect. Rates range from $46 to $138, depending on the deductible and coverage.

Long-term: Available to almost anyone in good health. It is best for individuals who expect to be unemployed, self-employed or without medical benefits for 18 months or longer. Rates depend on the plan selected. Plans costing $65 to $100 a month usually mean high deductibles and co-pays. To lower those, individuals will pay a much higher monthly premium, ranging from $150 to $200.

Picking an option usually comes down to what is affordable.

The hard part is knowing where to find those options.

In 2005, American Independence Corp. targeted parents of graduates with its short-term insurance, provided through This year, after polling 1,300 college students on six campuses, the company is marketing directly to graduates through e-mails and advertising.

“We discovered that 88 percent of students are concerned about losing medical insurance and 74 percent are interested in finding a solution for themselves,” says David Ketting, the company's co-chief operating officer. “The interest is there. Now, we have to find a way to get them the information they need.”