Newly Unemployed In March Face COBRA Assistance Cut-off Unless U.S. Senate Follows House Lead To Restore Subsidy
Workers who lose their jobs after February 28 are likely to find that the cost of continued health coverage is unaffordable because they will not qualify for help under a special federal assistance program, which pays 65 percent of health coverage premiums under COBRA for laid-off workers, unless Congress acts to extend the eligibility deadline. In response to that looming deadline, Families USA sent a letter today to Senators urging them to follow the lead of the House of Representatives and extend the subsidy. The Senate is scheduled to act on a jobs bill that could include an extension of the subsidy. The COBRA subsidy was adopted last year as part of the federal stimulus bill, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune: "Gov. Tim Pawlenty's proposal to cut a net of $347 million from programs for sick, aged, disabled and jobless people is akin to the advice an ailing George Washington got from his doctors 210 years ago, one critic said Monday: Bleed him, in hope of a cure. Pawlenty would eliminate the General Assistance program in which about 20, 000 disabled and very-low-income people receive an average of $175 a month. He also would remove about 21, 500 childless adults earning between $8, 100 and $27, 000 from MinnesotaCare, the health insurance program for lower-income working people" (Wolfe, 2/15). The Oklahoman, on the effects of at least $17 million in cuts to the state Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Department: "Already almost half of the 400 available beds have been cut.
The Los Angeles Times offers advice to consumers on how to understand and correct medical bills. "People with health insurance who get a medical bill this early in the new year may also get some sticker shock. Few will have satisfied their plan's annual deductible this soon, meaning they'll be responsible for a hefty portion of the bill, if not all of it." Before paying those charges, it is important to understand them. Tips include paying attention to details, learning the terminology, reading the remarks, using customer service, considering a billing advocate and dealing with the doctor's office (Kritz, 2/15). In a separate article, the LA Times details some of the avenues available to correct billing problems.
News outlets report on several of the pending policy issues of a health care overhaul. "An agreement to tax high-cost, employer-sponsored health insurance plans, announced with fanfare by the White House and labor unions last month, is losing support from labor leaders, who say the proposal is too high a price to pay for the limited health care package they expect to emerge from Congress, " The New York Times reports. "With support for the tax eroding, Congressional leaders are searching for alternative sources of revenue." Many House Democrats also "continue to criticize the tax as bad policy, " and say "the tax is bad politics because it would set the middle class against the poor - people struggling to keep health insurance against people struggling to get it" (Pear, 2/15).
Kaiser Health News: "Proponents say that the legislation would spur competition among insurers and bring down costs for consumers. Reps. Tom Perriello, D-Va., and Betsy Markey, D-Colo., who are sponsoring the bill, said in a press release it would 'end special treatment for the insurance industry that allows them to fix prices, collude with each other, and set their own markets without fear of being investigated.' But many antitrust experts say that ending the exemption -- by repealing the 1945 McCarran-Ferguson Act -- wouldn't significantly increase competition or reduce premiums." The federal government is already "responsible for antitrust enforcement involving mergers and acquisitions" for insurers (Gold, 2/8).
Kaiser Health News staff writer Jenny Gold writes about legislation to repeal this exemption. "With comprehensive health care legislation foundering in Congress, the House is turning to a narrower piece of legislation that lawmakers hope has widespread, populist appeal: repealing the antitrust exemption for health and medical liability insurers. ... But many antitrust experts say that ending the exemption -- by repealing the 1945 McCarran-Ferguson Act -- wouldn't significantly increase competition or reduce premiums" (Kaiser Health News). Read entire story. This information was reprinted from kaiserhealthnews.org with kind permission from the Henry J.