Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Jobless face lost benefits

Government subsidies for health insurance premiums are ending this week for many jobless Mississippians, making it virtually impossible for them to afford such insurance.It has been a lifeline," said Ron Pollack, executive director of the advocacy group Families USA. "And now that lifeline is being withdrawn."

The federal program known as COBRA allows workers to keep their company's health insurance plan, even after losing their jobs. Starting March 1, federal stimulus legislation reduced the cost by 65 percent for workers laid off between Sept. 1, 2008, and Dec. 31, 2009 - but only for nine months.

It's unclear how many jobless have been using the subsidies. An early congressional study estimated 7 million Americans would do so, and a bill to extend those subsidies is now pending in Congress.

Robert Langford, executive director for Operation Shoestring in Jackson, said these subsidies to help cover health insurance have been "a huge help" to laid-off workers and their families.

But these subsidies are expiring, despite the fact many are still searching for jobs, he said.

Mississippi is among the states being hit the hardest. Unemplo[censored] families who lost their subsidies have seen their average monthly cost of health insurance premiums skyrocket to $1,027 - far more than the average monthly unemployment check of $839, according to a new study done by Families USA.

On Jan. 16, Deidre Harvey lost her job at United Blood Services in Jackson after working there more than 21 years. "We had excellent insurance," she said.

But even with the subsidies, she found after a few weeks she simply couldn't afford to keep paying for insurance for her and her 18-year-old daughter.

When the final week came, she and her daughter got their last prescriptions before the policy expired, she said. "I told her, 'We're going to have to get our last blood pressure pills, and after that, we're on our own.' "

Her daughter is now attending Dillard University, where students must have health insurance, she said. "I paid $460, but it doesn't cover much."These days, Harvey said, "I just continue to pray that I don't get sick and that she doesn't get sickThe 49-year-old Jackson woman has returned to college after 30 years, but she said it's been difficult finding a full-time job that will let her work the hours she wmiprvse Exe High Cpu Vista needs while she's also getting her social work degree.

Mississippi is one of nine states where the average monthly cost of health insurance premiums is higher than the average monthly unemployment check. Other states include Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Louisiana, South Carolina and Tennessee.

Beverly Johnson, 61, of Kosciusko said she went through a "nightmare" trying to keep her health insurance benefits after being laid off in 2008. "I wiped out thousands worth of retirement while I was wmi Provider Host Has Stopped Working Windows 7 looking for a position," she said.

The nonprofit college where she worked didn't have enough employees to be eligible for COBRA. Instead, it fell under Mississippi's "mini-COBRA" law.

Johnson said Mississippi's version of COBRA cost her $525 a month to keep her health insurance benefits and then $575 - more than her mortgage.

Nearly a year later, she still didn't have a job, and her mstblogm insurance policy was close to expiring.

To make sure she was still covered by insurance, she went online and bought a three-month policy, she said. Before that policy expired, she landed a new job with health insurance benefits.

"It's totally unrealistic for people wmi Provider Host High Cpu Windows Server 2008 laid off to pay COBRA," she said. "I was just fortunate wmi Provider Host High Cpu Windows 7 I didn't have to cover a family."

Warren Yoder, executive director for the Public Policy Center of Mississippi, said what happened to Johnson is happening to many other Mississippians.

"As people lose their jobs, COBRA just eats up their savings," he said. "Then they're left without any income and without any benefits."

He said what's taking place is "a rude wake-up call for a lot of people. And if they have pre-existing health conditions, Lord have mercy."

Prior to passage of the stimulus measure, workers had to pay the full cost of their premium - their share, their employer's share and an administrative fee - to keep their coverage under COBRA.

That made the policies so expensive a minority of eligible workers signed up.

Therese Hanna, executive director for the Center for Mississippi Health Policy, said those who get health insurance through work are the lucky ones in Mississippi. Only 28 percent of businesses in the state even offer those benefits, she said.

Those who are jobless and have health problems find it difficult, if not impossible, to buy insurance elsewhere, she said.

Pollack said the overwhelming majority of the jobless will now be without health insurance, too.

"You can't pay 83 percent of your check to health insurance premiums and have enough money for food, shelter and clothing," he said. "I think we're going to see a real spike in the uninsured."

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