KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Recession Taking Toll on Unemployed As Well As Caregivers

The recession has increased the number of uninsured Americans and made it more difficult to access health care programs while also placing special burdens on caregivers.

The Roanoke Times reports on concerns that "aid available to the newly unemployed to help lower the cost of health insurance isn't reaching everyone, leaving many without affordable access to medical care." As part of President Obama's economic stimulus package, the government set up a system to absorb some of the COBRA costs for recently laid off workers seeking to continue the health insurance they had when employed. The paper notes that "the federal stimulus bill lowered the amount a newly unemployed worker must pay to keep his or her former group health plan through COBRA from 102 percent to 35 percent of the premium.

"Virginia set up a similar program to help workers laid off from small businesses with 20 or fewer employees. But insurance experts familiar with the new federal and state guidelines say it appears few people are using the programs and many others don't qualify," The Roanoke Times reports. The paper also notes that "those who lost jobs from companies that completely shut down, and those who had coverage from an individual policy instead of an employer-sponsored group policy don't qualify for the benefit. So, as the unemployment rolls have swelled, so have the ranks of the uninsured. Estimates indicate that as many as 14,000 people a day are joining the uninsured tally nationally, according to the Center for American Progress action fund. That's on top of the approximately 46 million who were uninsured before the recession" (Jones, 6/8).

Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that the "economic crisis has spread its pain widely, but it has placed special stresses on the estimated 44 million Americans who provide care for an elderly or disabled relative or spouse, many of whom have already made themselves financially vulnerable trying to balance work and family." A recent survey of 1,005 caregivers by the Alliance for Caregiving as well as Evercare, a division of UnitedHealth Group, found "one in six said they had lost a job during the downturn, and 21 percent said they had to share housing with family members to save money." Many of the caregivers "rely on help from the government and nonprofit organizations to make ends meet," but "are finding that such services are being cut in the downturn and have had to assume even more care-related expenses." The New York Times notes that "caregivers spend an average of $5,500 a year as part of their responsibilities, not counting lost wages" (Leland, 6/6).

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