COBRA premium assistance, as well as extension of coverage, are included in the economic stimulus package that just passed in the Senate today. (“American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009″ section 3001)
Undoubtedly, this will keep many families from losing health care coverage. However, it points to serious problems within our health care system that need to be properly addressed for the long term.
COBRA, The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, was passed in 1986 as a way to protect employees with group coverage from losing that coverage after experiencing a job loss or death of the covered spouse.
Intended to fill the gap until other coverage is obtained, the escalating cost of individual health insurance coupled with fewer companies offering group coverage has left many Americans out in the cold. With unemployment on the rise, the number of available jobs offering group health coverage is dwindling.
COBRA, as it stands today, lasts 18 months after the loss of a job, or 36 months after divorce or death of the covered employee. The covered individual is 100 percent responsible for premiums. If you can afford the premiums, you’ve got 18-36 months to find alternate coverage. If you can’t afford the premiums, you’re out of luck.
If after your COBRA period ends, you are not eligible for group coverage, the individual market is your next option. If you have a pre-existing condition, things get complicated. Laws differ from state to state. Some states have no protection for people with pre-existing conditions and you may be denied coverage. Other states mandate that a policy of some kind must be offered, but the type of policy is at the discretion of the insurance company, and there is no cap on premiums. Some states offer a high-risk pool; others do not.
For those currently facing loss of insurance, COBRA changes in the stimulus bill will provide temporary relief. But millions of people have already used up their COBRA without finding accessible and affordable coverage, many with chronic conditions that are not being properly tended to. What will we do for them?
While the stimulus package does include some important provisions for health care, we cannot lose site of the larger picture. Today, in the United States of America, you can find yourself un-insured, or seriously under-insured, because you have the misfortune of having a health issue and no access to group coverage.
If we’re serious about overhauling the health care system, providing coverage to all is essential. You can tell a lot about a people by how they treat their ill. What does that say about us?