Consumers Union Asks Congress to Subsidize Insurance for Unemployed Workers
Consumers Union, the publisher of Consumer Reports, on Oct. 22 issued a report, titled "A Pink Slip Away: Why Congress Should Subsidize Health Insurance Coverage for Laid-Off Workers," urging Congress to help laid-off workers maintain their health insurance by subsidizing COBRA premiums. Under COBRA, laid-off employees may retain their-employer sponsored coverage, but must pay the full cost of their premiums, an expense that most people cannot afford, according to Consumers Union. Specifically, Consumers Union is asking Congress to provide:
- A 50% to 75% federal subsidization of COBRA premiums for 5 million to 10 million workers laid off since the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
- An option for states to provide "additional premium subsidies on a sliding scale for individuals and families with incomes up to 450%" of the federal poverty level, or $79,425 for a family of four.
- A state option to expand Medicaid eligibility to include those not eligible for COBRA (Consumers Union release, 10/22).
Senate Democrats have proposed an economic plan that would provide laid-off workers with a federal COBRA subsidy (California Healthline, 10/15). However, according to the Consumers Union report, a similar house package is "generous with tax breaks for corporations, but is extremely stingy in proposed health insurance subsidies for laid-off workers" (Shearer/Montezemolo, "A Pink Slip Away: Why Congress Should Subsidize Health Insurance Coverage for Laid-Off Workers," 10/22). Gail Shearer, Director of Health Policy Analysis for Consumers Union's Washington, D.C. office and a co-author of the report, said, "So far, the House has totally missed the mark in providing what is needed to help those who have lost their jobs and their health insurance in the wake of September 11. If Congress really wants to stimulate the economy and reduce the burden on employers who offer health coverage, lawmakers must provide a direct, federal health subsidy for the displaced" (Consumers Union release, 10/22). The full report is available http://www.consumersunion.org/health/cobra/cobra.htm.
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