Archive for Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Jobless lose healthcare coverage, too

October 28, 2009

About 27,000 more Kansans lost health coverage during the first eight months of this year because of job losses, bringing the total number of uninsured adults to 293,000.

The average unemployment rate rose from 4.4 percent in 2008 to 6.6 percent between January and August of this year.

According to Families USA, a national organization for healthcare consumers, 62 percent of Americans under age 65 get their health coverage through their own job or that of a family member. They do so because of lower premiums through group coverage, contributions toward premiums by employers, and stronger protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

Therefore, job loss often means loss of health coverage because the government COBRA plan and individual plans are simply too expensive, especially when coupled with less income.

Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, said this is why healthcare reform needs to be adopted. It will provide those who are unemployed more — and less expensive — options.

“People who receive a pink slip experience a double whammy. They not only lose their jobs, but they usually lose their health coverage as well. That’s why healthcare reform is so important. It will protect America's families when they lose or switch jobs,” Pollack said.

“The uninsured are less likely to get the care that they need when they need it, and they may face a financial catastrophe when medical bills start to pile up.”

Nationally, the unemployment rate rose from 5.8 percent in 2008 to 8.9 percent this year, adding about 4 million adults to the uninsured list.

Families USA now estimates that about 50 million people have no health insurance. In Kansas, the total number of insured is estimated to be 340,000 with 13,000 in Douglas County.

Families USA released the numbers recently in the report "One-Two Punch: Unemployed and Uninsured." The report is based on a model created by economists at The Urban Institute.

Pollack outlined some ways that healthcare reform could help the unemployed gain coverage:

• He said all of the healthcare reform bills increase the eligibility level for Medicaid on a national level. So anyone with an income below 133 percent of the federal poverty level will be eligible for Medicaid. For a family of four, that is roughly $29,300 annually. He said Congress is aware that it can't fund the program the same way it is now.

Currently, the federal government pays about 56 percent of the costs and states pick up the rest.

“The federal government is going to have to kick in considerably higher dollars than they do in the current Medicaid program,” Pollack said. “That certainly is going to happen, and my hope is that ultimately the federal government will pick up 100 percent of the costs. Right now, it looks like it will be in the high 90 percent in terms of the portion that they will pick up.”

• People with incomes between 133 percent of the poverty level and 400 percent — which is $88,200 annually for a family of four — would be able to access coverage through a new marketplace called an exchange. He said people also could qualify for a sliding scale subsidy.

“The precise level of the subsidies is still being worked out in Congress,” he said. “Frankly, we are hoping the subsidies will be improved from where they are in the current bills. But, those subsidies don’t exist today, and so they will provide help that doesn’t exist today for people who can't afford premiums.”

• The health reform bills include limits on out-of-pocket costs that people have to pay for, whether it is at a hospital, pharmacy or doctor's office.

“The whole purpose of that is to make sure that people don't go into great debt or bankruptcy when they need significant care,” he said.

• The bills include measures so companies can no longer deny health coverage based on pre-existing conditions or charge a discriminatory premium based on such a condition. They also won't be able to charge an annual or lifetime cap on what insurance pays for health costs.

“The loss of a job is a terrible blow to working families. But when health insurance is lost along with a job, it is a devastating one-two punch,” Pollack said. “That’s why it is so important that healthcare reform be adopted this year.”

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