COBRA subsidy offers a lifeline for the unemployed

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COBRA subsidy offers a lifeline for the unemployed

Dayton Daily News – Last week Carole Williams’ COBRA payment nearly tripled, to $417 a month — nearly a third of her monthly unemployment payments.

Before then the 63-year-old Union woman paid only $147 a month, thanks to subsidy in the federal stimulus package. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) created a nine-month fund that helped laid-off workers buy coverage at 35 percent of the full cost. But that subsidy expired last week for Williams and countless others who started getting it in March, leaving them in health care limbo while Congress deliberates about whether to extend the subsidy.

Health care experts typically would advise workers like Williams not to drop their COBRA coverage, but they’re not the ones forced to choose between their health care premiums and their heating bills.

She’s hanging her hopes on Senate Bill 2730, which would extend the duration of the subsidies and increase the percentage of the premiums. “If they don’t pass this, I’ll get a lower-cost catastrophic insurance, with a big deductible,” she said.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, who introduced the bill along with Sen. Robert P. Casey, D-Pa., explained it this way: “Part of our role in an economy like this is to help people make it through until things get better. Every day we wait makes it harder.”

When he introduced the bill, Brown said, “Unemployed workers should be able to focus on finding work, instead of worry about how to afford medical care for their families….No family should be one medical visit away from financial disaster.”

Brown described himself as “very optimistic” after discussing the bill with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid last week and raising the issue in the Democratic Caucus. “We hope to get it renewed by the end of year,” Brown said. “There’s a strong sentiment for it, because we know how well it worked.”

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