Democrats Push For Extension As COBRA Subsidies Expire
Subsidies to help people pay for COBRA benefits the program that lets laid off or departing employees temporarily hang on to their health coverage are drying up, the Salt Lake Tribune reports. The subsidies, which pay for 65 percent of the often-costly premiums, became available in March as part of the economic stimulus legislation. But they only last for nine months, and the first wave of applicants are now losing their benefits. And, after Dec. 31, the assistance will no longer be available to the newly unemployed (Rosetta, 12/1).
People are beginning to worry. The Detroit Free Press reports, "Alida Holmes is frightened to be without health insurance for the first time as an adult. She can't afford the $500-a-month coverage on her own, so Holmes, 60, a laid-off legal secretary who lives in Detroit, began several months ago to reduce the dosages of medicines she takes for high blood pressure and a lung disorder, so she'd have drugs for awhile after her coverage expired" (Anstett, 12/2).
That's why some Democrats are now pushing to expand the subsidies. CongressDaily reports, "A bill introduced by Sens. Robert Casey Jr., D-Pa., and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, would extend the subsidies through June and increase the amount to 75 percent of workers' premiums. Workers with reduced hours would also be eligible for subsidies, not just those who were laid off." The extended COBRA subsidies would likely be attached to broader unemployment benefits, too (Hunt, 12/1).
The Associated Press adds, "As unemployment spikes, the cost of compassion is going up too. By as much as $100 billion." One Democratic plan would spend that much $85 billion on unemployment benefits and $15 billion on COBRA subsidies to increase protections for the laid-off. Unemployment programs cost the federal government just $43 billion in two years ago when the jobless rate was 4.8 percent. Now, it's 10.2 percent and the White House expects the cost for fiscal year 2010 to top $140 billion (Taylor, 12/1).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.