Friday, May 30, 2008

Uncoiling A Smart New COBRA Law

Most people would like to see the nation's health care insurance crisis solved in one swoop. Barring that unlikely event, however, we have to chip away at this problem one bit at a time.
That's what two Illinois congressmen are trying to accomplish with an effort to greatly expand health care insurance for those who leave, or are pushed, from their jobs. U.S. representatives Mark Kirk and Dan Lipinski want to extend COBRA coverage for former employees until they qualify for Medicare at 65 years old.
Right now, COBRA runs out after 18 months.
This is one of the few initiatives that seeks to address the plight of providing health care coverage to middle-age people who have lost their insurance. Indeed, while there's been significant strides toward insuring children, and older people are covered under Medicare, little is being done to help anxious middle-age workers, who don't qualify for these programs and often bear the brunt of corporate lay-offs.
Once out of a job, they must scramble to find some type of medical coverage for themselves and their family after COBRA runs out.
That can be an expensive, and often cruel, experience especially if the former employee or a family member has a pre-existing medical condition. Insurance companies live to deny coverage to anyone with a hangnail.
For all you fiscal conservatives, this program has one big selling point: Extending COBRA should not shift any cost burdens to the government or taxpayers.
Right now, COBRA recipients pay the full cost of their insurance--a 100 percent-plus two percent in administrative charges. Under the proposed legislation, they'd pay 106percent.
Obviously that's a huge chunk of change and not everyone can afford it.
Still, for those who can make these hefty payments, it means the security of being covered under the same package they enjoyed as employees. Often those benefits are much better than the post-COBRA insurance packages now being offered by Blue Cross Blue Shield, Humana and other providers.
Will this measure pass?
It has a fighting chance. Already, the proposed Health Insurance for Life Act introduced last year is gaining bi-partisan support (Kirk is a Republican and Lipinski a Democrat).
Nonetheless, lawmakers should expect serious push-back from the powerful health care insurance lobby, which typically opposes even the most incremental reform.
Brace yourself for the howls of protest from insurance companies and their hired guns, who will scream about rising costs, increased risk and society traveling down a slippery slope toward "socialized" medicine.
Baloney.
This measure is a temperate and necessary step toward easing a major burden of middle-class people, who are willing and able to pay for their own health insurance, provided they can get a policy.


United-US Air Merger Crashes. Now comes word that United Airlines will not pursue a merger with rival US Airways.
Good.
Let's face it: No one knows how to solve this country's air transportation crisis. But one thing is certain--airline mergers only make the problem worse.
Let's move on from there.


(COBRA photo courtesy of Pandagon on Google Images. Airline photo courtesy of Barbados Free Press)

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