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Florida families feel bite of COBRA coverage

Florida was singled out in a report Friday as one of the toughest states for unemployed workers to cover their family's health care needs.

Currently, many workers who lost their jobs are able to continue purchasing the same health care coverage through the COBRA program. But according to a report by Families USA, the cost for that lifeline is prohibitively high for many, especially when compared with average unemployment benefits.

Florida is one of nine states where the average premiums for family coverage under COBRA equal or exceed total unemployment benefits. The state's average COBRA premium for family coverage, $1,037, represents 102.4 percent of the average unemployment monthly benefit, which is $1,013.

Nationally, the average family unemployment income is $1,278 and the average monthly COBRA premium is $1,069. That means COBRA costs for family coverage would chew up 83.6 percent of unemployment income.

COBRA, which stands for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985, was intended to provide workers with a bridge as they seek their next job.

"COBRA health coverage is great in theory but lousy in reality,'' Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, said in a conference call Friday morning. "What happens to those people who would like to retain health insurance coverage even when they get their pink slip?''

Pollack advocated that any stimulus package or other national relief promoted by the Obama administration and Congress include temporary eligibility for Medicaid for the jobless.

For individual coverage in Florida, the average COBRA premium ($371) would take 37 percent of average monthly benefits. Nationally, COBRA premiums would take 30 percent of unemployment insurance income.

Families USA, a nonprofit organization that promotes affordable and high-quality health care, timed the report's release with that of the latest national unemployment figures.

The country's unemployment rate jumped to 7.2 percent, a 16-year high, as employers cut 524,000 more jobs, the Labor Department reported. More than 2.6-million have joined the ranks of the unemployed since the recession began a year ago.

Jeff Harrington can be reached at jharrington@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8242.

Unemployed squeezed by health insurance

Florida is one of nine states where the average premiums for family coverage under COBRA equal or exceed total unemployment benefits.

StateBenefitCOBRA

premium
Premium as

a percentage

of benefits
Alabama$869$993114.2%
Alaska$869$1,145131.7%
Arizona$937$1,084115.8%
Delaware$1,131$1,183104.6%
Florida$1,013$1,037102.4%
Louisiana$879$1,014115.3%
Mississippi$800$917114.6%
South Carolina$1,029$1,029100%
West Virginia$1,017$1,059104.2%

Source: Families USA

Florida families feel bite of COBRA coverage 01/09/09 [Last modified: Sunday, January 11, 2009 9:36pm]
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