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Today's Health Insurance Topic:: COBRA - What to do now

JANUARY 30, 2009 -- . The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA), can be an ideal solution for a worker who wants to keep his or her coverage for up to 36 months. Under COBRA, the former employee still participates in the company plan if he or she pays the full premium.

There are a few hitches, though. This alternative is only available to former employees of firms with more than 20 workers. And if the employer stops offering health insurance or if the company is dissolved in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, COBRA may be no longer applicable. Finally, it can cost up to 102% of the plan's cost--the extra 2% is for administrative expenses.

"Employees are not used to seeing the total cost," says Laden. "You can pay three or four times more than what you're currently paying," because an employer often subsidizes 75% to 80% of the plan's cost. Coverage for an average family in 2008 was $12,680 and $4,704 for an individual, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit health policy organization.

Getting the Best Deal

When investing that much, it's important to shop around. The Department of Labor maintains a comprehensive Web site on COBRA, which includes information on deadlines and life-long eligibility for coverage when COBRA expires.

McCauley also suggests that the uninsured explore obtaining coverage through a spouse. Depending on the carrier and company policy, the newly uninsured may qualify for spousal coverage. If unemployment does not count as a so-called "qualifying event," you may need short-term insurance until the once-a-year open enrollment phase.

Editorial: About Health Insurance -- Even before taking the oath of office, President-elect Barack Obama has gotten traction on his agenda to expand health insurance to all Americans - starting with children.

The U.S. House voted with impressive bipartisan backing to boost spending for the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). The $32.3 billion, 41/2-year program will be covered by tobacco taxes, including a 61-cent hike on cigarette packs, to $1.

With 40 Republicans joining Democrats in the majority, lawmakers reauthorized the child health program until 2013. Beyond the seven million children from low-income families already in the program, an additional 4.1 million children under 18 who are uninsured could sign up. In a key reform, more legal immigrants' children would be covered.

In Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware, more than 250,000 children would be able to receive health care under the program. No wonder U.S. Rep. Allyson Y. Schwartz (D., Pa.) - who pioneered children's insurance programs while a legislator in Harrisburg - said on the House floor that "today is a good day for American families." Now it's up to the Senate to follow suit and approve a companion bill to the House measure. That seems entirely likely, inasmuch as Congress twice in 2007 voted to expand SCHIP - only to have both attempts vetoed by President Bush, who objected to the increased cost.

Landing this bill on Obama's desk soon would be an important early win for the administration, and also would bode well for more comprehensive health-care reform to follow. Pennsylvania and New Jersey are poised to make the most of an expansion of the children's insurance program. Both Govs. Rendell and Corzine have worked hard to get more kids insurance, even while Bush policies worked against them.

Rendell's Cover All Kids plan last year ran up against a Bush directive that limited states in providing children's insurance. As Corzine noted Thursday, New Jersey's charity-care costs grew in caring for the state's sizable number of legal immigrant children who, until now, had to live in the country five years before enrolling in SCHIP. By taxing tobacco for the expansion, Congress has answered critics on the cost - for now. Additional tax hikes may be needed if the program's cost increases. With unemployment rising and the economic turmoil threatening millions of workers' health insurance, though, the boost in SCHIP should be viewed in the larger context of the nation's economic rescue and recovery efforts.

In other words, it's a good investment in stabilizing families and helping to assure that America's neediest kids have a healthy future



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