Thousands in NC lose health coverage

October 15, 2009 9:24:56 AM PDT
A report out Thursday from the consumer organization Families USA says nearly 185 thousand North Carolinians have lost health coverage this year.The group blamed rising unemployment which jumped from an average of 6.3 percent in 2008 to 10.7 percent so far this year.

"People who receive a pink slip experience a double whammy," said Ron Pollack, Executive Director of Families USA. "They not only lose their jobs but they usually lose their health coverage as well."

Read the Families USA report at: www.familiesusa.org (.pdf)

Pollack said the statistics highlight the importance of health care reform.

Most Americans get their health care coverage through their employers, and seeking private insurance is often too expensive for many. Federal rules say employers must continue to offer health insurance to laid off workers through the COBRA program, but premiums can often be much higher because the employee must pay the whole premium - including the part previously paid by their employer.

For example, if an employee was paying $300 a month for family health coverage through an employer, and the employer was paying the other half of the $600 premium, then the employee is on the hook for the full $600 if they're laid off.

Many can't afford premiums that suddenly jump by hundreds of dollars when they're already in a situation where they've lost their jobs.

“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," said Pollack.

A federal program passed by Congress under the stimulus program pays two-thirds of COBRA costs for 9 months, but that program is set to run out December 31. Congress has not moved yet to extend that.

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