Health Inc.

Millions Face Insurance Crisis As COBRA Subsidy Ends

It's bad enough losing a job with the economy as bad as it is. But losing affordable health insurance is at least as big a worry for millions of Americans.

Now those worries are likely to worsen. Starting this week, $25 billion in special federal subsidies to defray 65 percent of the costs for people to keep buying health coverage through their ex-employers are expiring.

As part of the federal stimulus package, the nine-month subsidies made available to the unemployed starting in March have run out for those who collected them from the get-go.

Laid-off legal secretary Alida Holmes is one of the people who lost the COBRA subsidy this week and with it her insurance. "The thing that scares me the most is catching a cold and having it turn into bronchitis or pneumonia," she told Detroit Free Press, "I have had this happen several times and ended up in the hospital. That is no longer an option for me since I have no health care now."

People who lose their jobs from after the end of this month won't be eligible for the subsidy. Congress isn't likely to extend the program either, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Families USA says the COBRA subsidies have averaged $722 per month per family. Without them, family COBRA premiums will run an average of $1,111 per month, or 83 percent of the average monthly unemployment checks. The group is pushing for an extension of the subsidies.

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