KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

Obama Signs Cobra Subsidy Extension For Laid-Off Workers

"President Barack Obama on Monday signed a measure to extend a federal subsidy for continued health-insurance coverage for involuntarily terminated workers under employer group plans," The Wall Street Journal reports. "The law extends the subsidy an additional six months for a total of 15 months, up from the current nine. The subsidy applies only to workers let go by employers. … Eligibility for the subsidy had been due to expire on Dec. 31 but has been extended to workers laid off between Jan. 1 and Feb. 28, 2010, in addition to those let go between Sept. 1, 2008, and Dec. 31, 2009, under the original program. The subsidy is provided in the form of a payroll tax credit to employers with 20 or more workers. The extension is part of the Pentagon spending bill Congress approved in recent days" (McQueen, 12/22).

USA Today: "COBRA is a federal law that allows workers who leave their jobs to continue their former employer's health insurance coverage for up to 18 months. Ordinarily, though, individuals must pay the entire premium, plus an administrative fee, making COBRA unaffordable for most unemployed workers. The economic stimulus package enacted in February subsidized 65% of COBRA premiums for workers laid off between Sept. 1, 2008, and Dec. 31" (Block, 12/22).

San Francisco Chronicle: "Without subsidies, the average monthly Cobra payment for a California family is $1,107, similar to the national average, according to Families USA, a consumer advocacy group. With the federal subsidy paying 65 percent of the cost, that payment drops to $388. The extra help is important because even if a health overhaul bill is passed before the end of the year, it's not likely to help people immediately, said Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California, a consumer advocacy group" (Colliver, 12/22).

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