The majority of low-income Americans who lose their jobs are also financially forced to go without health insurance, a new report by consumer health organization Families USA revealed this week.
According to the report, a full 54% of the country’s unemployed workers making about double the poverty level (about $44,100 for a family of four) cannot afford private health insurance, but are also not eligible for Medicaid.
Moreover, COBRA continuation coverage, a government initiative which allows laid-off employees to retain their employer-based insurance for a period of time at the employees’ own expense—this means laid-off workers can keep their formerly subsidized insurance plans if they assume the full cost of the premiums—is prohibitively expensive throughout most of the country. In 41 states, including New York and Pennsylvania, the cost of COBRA family coverage eats up a staggering three fourths the average amount of unemployment benefits.
“Most laid-off workers can’t afford COBRA coverage and do not qualify for public health safety-net programs,” said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA. “As a result, millions of middle-class and lower-income workers become uninsured.”
In 43 states, Pollack said, Medicaid is simply unavailable for adults who don’t have children — unless they are permanently disabled.
“Even if those adults are penniless, they are ineligible.” –AP
The House version of the economic stimulus package currently under consideration in Congress stands to offer some insurance relief to the recently unemployed and their families, by providing “a subsidy of 65 percent, almost two-thirds of the COBRA premium costs to families and workers who are seeking COBRA coverage. This assistance would be extended for a 12-month period,” according to Pollack. The House bill also would make the federal Medicaid health insurance program available to laid-off workers who meet particular income requirements. (The Senate version of the package only offers COBRA assistance for nine months, and does not make Medicaid available to laid-off workers.)
While some Americans who feel secure in their jobs and/or in their health insurance plans cling to the idea that these problems do not affect them, the skyrocketing cost of treating the uninsured ultimately forces many hospitals to cut the services they offer to all of their patients. Families USA has also calculated that the cost of medical services for uninsured Americans increases annual health insurance premiums by an average of $341 for individuals and $922 for families.