Friday, December 18, 2009

Don't be Scrooges: Renew the COBRA subsidy

Before I lost my job as a journalist, I specialized in writing about social policy. I would have spent this year writing about the Great Recession of 2009 if the Seattle Post-Intelligencer hadn't closed in March. Instead, I experienced the economic meltdown firsthand.
I soon learned more than I ever wanted to know about the federal law called COBRA. It requires employers who lay off workers to continue their health insurance for 18 months. The big catch is you have to foot the entire cost yourself. That added up to a staggering $1600 a month for a couple or family in the case of former P-I staff.
But we got lucky, if anything about losing your job and career can be lucky. The sheer numbers of unemployed prompted President Obama to include a 65 percent subsidy for COBRA premiums in his federal relief package last spring. The subsidy for laid-off workers lasted nine months and was a huge help.
Now it's about to run out.
Anxiety is running high among my many friends and former colleagues who have not found work. The kind of gut-wrenching fear that tears you from sleep and plagues you with "what-ifs." 
Meanwhile, Congress is debating whether to extend it
What is there to debate?
My plea to our elected representatives -- all of whom already have excellent health care plans subsidized by taxpayers -- is that they do the right thing this holiday season. For the sake of the millions of hardworking Americans who never thought they'd be living on the edge. 
For the sake of my friends.
Update, Sunday December 20: Merry Christmas! The Senate did the right thing yesterday and passed a bill extending the COBRA subsidy for six months.
(Photo: by gwydionwilliams)