Health insurance help for laid off workers

    The COBRA discount will last a few months longer

    There’s good news for unemployed people trying to hold on to their group health insurance.

    Listen: [audio:091223tecobra.mp3]

    The federal program known as COBRA lets laid-off workers buy into their former employer’s health plan, though workers are responsible for the full cost of the benefits. Earlier this year, the federal stimulus package offered workers a 65 percent subsidy for those costs. Now, Congress has extended the program.

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    Ron Pollack leads the health care advocacy group Families USA. He says, without the subsidy, health care premiums can be unaffordable for many unemployed people.

    Pollack: And it comes at a time when income is very low. The average monthly COBRA premium for family coverage is $1111, in comparison to the average unemployment insurance check which is $1333.

    Originally the subsidy was only available to workers laid off in 2009. This week Congress extended the program to help people laid off in January and February of 2010. It also extended the length of the subsidy to 15 months, up from nine.

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