Oct 21, 2009

Will COBRA Subsidy Be Extended?

As the end of the year approaches, Congress and President Obama are considering whether to extend several important economic benefits to help ease the effects of the recession. For instance, the tax credit for first-time homebuyers, an $8,000 credit that one economist says will have resulted in 400,000 home sales during its tenure, is set to expire on December 1, 2009. Unemployment benefits are another topic of discussion: The House of Representatives has already passed a bill that would provide an additional 13 weeks of unemployment benefits in states with unemployment rates of at least 8.5%. The Senate is considering a different approach, which would extend benefits for 14 weeks in every state, and by an additional six weeks in states with higher unemployment.

And what of the COBRA subsidy, by which the government picks up almost two-thirds of the tab for continuing health insurance for workers who have lost their jobs involuntarily? (Learn more about the subsidy in this article.) The subsidy, which lasts for nine months, applies only to employees who are fired or laid off by the end of this year. According to Workforce Management, the percentage of eligible employees who actually enroll in COBRA has doubled since the subsidy went effect. The White House has said that it is considering  seeking an extension of the subsidy. So far, however, Congress doesn't appear to have taken up any legislation that would effect this change. If Congress doesn't act, workers who are fired or laid off after the first of the year will once again have to pay the full cost of continuing health insurance -- and, given the statistics above, many are likely to decide that this is a luxury they can't afford.