Unemployment Update: House passes COBRA Subsidy Extension…
Finally!!!! Now we need action in the Senate. It feels like the first time the House has done something for the real people doesn’t it?? How about some Lou Gramm Foreigner-Unplugged
The House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved legislation Wednesday, December 16, that would extend the federal subsidy of COBRA health insurance premiums for employees who are involuntarily terminated.Embedded in H.R. 3326, a measure appropriating funds for the Department of Defense, the nine-month, 65 percent premium subsidy would be extended by six months to a total of 15 months. It would apply to those who lose their jobs through February 28, 2010. Under current law, employees who lose their jobs after December 31 are ineligible for the subsidy.
The measure, approved on 395-34 vote, also would provide an additional six months of subsidized coverage for beneficiaries whose nine-month COBRA premium subsidy has run out.
In addition, the legislation would give beneficiaries whose subsidy ran out and who didn’t pay the full premium a second chance to opt for coverage. For example, a beneficiary whose nine months of subsidized coverage ran out November 30 and who didn’t pay the regular unsubsidized December premium could pay the 35 percent premium share in January and receive coverage for December.
The House is also expected to take up another appropriations bill, H.R. 2847, with a provision that would extend the premium subsidy to those who lose their jobs through June 30, 2010.
More on COBRA and other available resources for those who may have lost it, are losing it awaiting the Senate to take action, or cannot afford it courtesy of the WSJ:
…a companion bill has been introduced in the Senate that also would extend the Cobra subsidy for six months, up to a total of 15 months, and increase the subsidy to 75%. But it’s not known if the legislation will pass or even come to a vote….
…Many unemployed workers who first started receiving the Cobra subsidy in March lost it as of Nov. 30, and many more will start losing the subsidy this month. Workers whose Cobra eligibility begins on or after Jan. 1, 2010 won’t get the subsidy even if they’re terminated by Dec. 31, unless Congress extends the law (UPDATE from MiM: HOUSE has extended, waiting on Senate)
CONTINUES AFTER THE BREAK:
Anyone who is involuntarily terminated by Dec. 31 and is eligible for Cobra by that date, however, can get the subsidy for the full nine months, says Sharon Watson, director at the Employee Benefits Security Administration, U.S. Department of Labor.
Once the subsidy ends, insureds must pay the full premium for the remaining period. The average monthly Cobra premium is $1,111, or 83% of the national average monthly unemployment insurance check, according to consumer advocacy group Families USA.
…If your former employer offers you the chance during open enrollment to switch to a cheaper Cobra plan, such as an HMO, consider it. But don’t drop Cobra until you’ve been approved for another health plan. Once you drop it, you can’t be reinstated, according to the Labor Department.
Also, avoid changing plans if you’re currently receiving medical treatment because a new plan may have different providers and benefits. To avoid being denied new coverage because of a pre-existing condition, avoid a 63-day lapse in coverage, officials say.
The nonprofit Foundation for Health Coverage Education (coverageforall.org) has listings of income-qualified government-sponsored group programs and private health-care options. The Department of Health and Human Services also has a site for information on state child health programs (InsureKidsNow.gov).
Private, individual health insurance can be affordable in states with a competitive market. But be sure to check benefits and exclusions, as private plans are often less comprehensive than employer group plans.
As a last resort, consider a catastrophic, or “hospital-only,” plan, which covers services performed in and billed by hospitals.
For updates on the Cobra subsidy, contact the Employee Benefits Security Administration at dol.gov/cobra or 866-444-3272.