Laid-Off Workers in Bay Area Struggle to Keep Health Insurance
While the growing number of laid-off workers nationwide all face the prospect of losing health coverage, the problem is particularly acute in the Bay Area, where the high cost of living and the collapse of dot-com companies complicates matters for many people hoping to maintain their health insurance, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act -- the 1986 federal law known as COBRA -- most laid-off workers can continue their employer-sponsored coverage for up to 18 months if they pay 100% of the premium plus a 2% administrative cost. But with individual employer-based plans averaging $2,650 per year and family plans averaging more than $7,000, most people who have just lost their income cannot afford to continue coverage. "In the Bay Area, where rents are still quite high ... the ability to pay for COBRA becomes one of the things (workers) have to balance paying for along with gas, energy and rent," Dr. Sandra Hernandez, CEO of the San Francisco Foundation and former director of San Francisco's Department of Public Health, said. In addition, employees who worked for companies that "close up shop" -- such as the "large number" of failed dot-com companies in the Bay Area -- are not eligible for COBRA. Laid-off workers can also look for an individual insurance plan, an option that may be more attractive than COBRA for many, according to Marian Mulkey, a program officer at the California HealthCare Foundation. "The individual market is a whole lot better for someone who's young and healthy than COBRA may be. [But] COBRA can be a pretty good deal for somebody who's 60," Mulkey said. Gail Shearer, director of health policy analysis for Consumers Union, suggested that laid-off workers also explore whether they are eligible for government-sponsored programs such as Medi-Cal. "Perhaps they will qualify for public benefits they wouldn't have dreamed of," she said (Colliver, San Francisco Chronicle, 10/23).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.