COBRA calls to the consumer helpline

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I have been getting more phone calls from people who are losing their jobs and are looking for health insurance. We discuss COBRA as an option but it is usually too expensive for them. For one consumer and his two children, it would cost $1000 per month for the COBRA premiums (under the recently passed stimulus bill, the cost to the family would be about $350 per month). Another family would have to pay $1500 per month for COBRA (approximately $525 a month under the stimulus package). Most of them will be living off of only their unemployment benefits and those aren’t high enough to pay for COBRA as well as other necessities, even with the reimbursement from the federal government. Most of these calls have been from people with children, who I can refer to the HUSKY Medical program. I’m glad that they at least have that option. But what about people without children? If they are single individuals, they have fewer options for health insurance and I grudgingly refer them to the Charter Oak Health plan. I say grudgingly because I don’t like to refer people to services when I don’t know that they will definitely get their needs met. But they don’t have many other alternatives.
I received a call from someone who wanted me to help him apply for assistance with COBRA premiums. I explained that these would occur through the federal stimulus package and it hadn’t passed Congress yet. Now that it has passed, I will be able to contact people from the list on my desk who called about COBRA to explain how to get part of their COBRA premium paid for. I’m sure they will be very happy and relieved. I appreciate that the federal government included this provision for COBRA in the stimulus package but it only lasts nine months and reimburses for 65 percent of the premium. That may not be long enough for some people. Even with a 65 percent reimbursement, COBRA may still be unaffordable for others.
These calls from people who are losing not only their jobs but their health insurance at the same time are highlighting a serious issue with our system of health insurance in the U.S.: health insurance is often based on employment and in tough economic times when you lose your job and your insurance at the same time it is doubly difficult to deal with. It’s also not easy to find a new job when so many are being laid off, which means that people are forced to struggle with finding insurance on their own. This is often expensive or sometimes not even available.
Jen Ramirez