KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

Senate Passes COBRA Extension

When the Senate passed a $626 billion defense spending measure Saturday morning, it was good news for laid-off workers who get the COBRA subsidy.

The Detroit Free Press: "The congressional stimulus bill passed in February created a program that paid 65% of monthly insurance premiums for people who lost their employer-based health care coverage because they were laid off. But that program was only open to people who lost their jobs – and their coverage – by the end of 2009. The new bill extends that eligibility deadline by two months, until the end of February 2010. It also adds six months to what was a 9-month period that the federal government would make the 65% of payments through the COBRA health plan, extending the period of payments to 15 months" (Spangler, 12/19).

The Examiner: "President Obama voiced his support for the extension at the White House Jobs Summit last week and Congress has been under increasing pressure to extend the subsidy. The bill now awaits his signature."

"Federal law requires employers to provide health care insurance to workers laid off for up to 18 months, though it is up to the employee to pay the premiums. These premiums average $1,111 per month for a family according to a study by Families USA, representing more than 83% of an average unemployment check" (McDermott, 12/19).

CNNMoney: "the deadline to apply for federally paid unemployment benefits and for the 65% insurance subsidy is Dec. 31" (Luhby, 12/19).

On Thursday, Modern Healthcare reported that "the unemployed who started receiving the subsidy in March saw it lapse on Dec. 1. ... The same bill includes a short-term delay to the impending cuts to Medicare physician reimbursement." (Vesely, 12/17).

Kaiser Health News: "The jobs bill, which will likely work its way through Congress early next year, would extend [the COBRA subsidy] until the end of June 2010. Both [it and the defense bill] would lengthen the nine-month subsidy to 15 months and would be retroactive for those who already timed out" (Gold, 12/17).

NPR reports on the issue by profiling a laid-off worker who will lose her COBRA subsidy Dec. 31 if Congress does not pass an extension to the program. "62-year-old Ann Hess of Atlanta, who lost her job at a mergers and acquisition firm, says she feels vulnerable and "angry that I worked so hard all my life to wind up where I am. My life used to be going out with friends, you know, buying nice Christmas presents for family. All that's gone now because I can't afford to do any of that. Health insurance has a lot to do with it" (Silberner, 12/17).

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