Record Number Enrolled In Anti-Poverty Programs, COBRA Coverage Alternatives Examined

One in six Americans is now taking advantage of government anti-poverty programs, including more than 50 million on Medicaid, for which enrollment is up 17 percent since the recession began in December 2007, USA Today reports. "The program has grown even before the new health care law adds about 16 million people, beginning in 2014. That has strained doctors. … As caseloads for all the programs have soared, so have costs. The federal price tag for Medicaid has jumped 36% in two years, to $273 billion. Jobless benefits have soared from $43 billion to $160 billion. The food stamps program has risen 80%, to $70 billion. Welfare is up 24%, to $22 billion. Taken together, they cost more than Medicare." USA Today surveyed state data to find the figures (Wolf, 8/30).

In the meantime, The Wall Street Journal reports that "[t]here's a slim chance that Congress could extend [a] 65%, 15-month subsidy again this fall [that helps the laid-off retain their former employer's health coverage], but most experts think it's unlikely due to mounting concerns about federal spending." The coverage, called the COBRA subsidy, "through a temporary payroll-tax credit for employers, helped make coverage affordable for many [involuntarily] terminated workers to continue under their former employers' group health-insurance plans. Without it, continuing insurance under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act generally requires the dismissed worker to pick up the total cost of their premium plus a 2% fee." As a result of more unemployed exhausting their subsidies and the newly jobless not being eligible for the subsidies, more unemployed are looking for less-costly health coverage through online providers. "Expanded insurance options under the new health-care overhaul law won't be widely available until 2014. Meanwhile, online providers of information about health-insurance coverage include the Foundation for Health Coverage Education, at coverageforall.org, a nonprofit funded partly by the health-insurance industry, and eHealthInsurance.com, an online brokerage mainly for private, individual insurance." The Department of Health and Human Services also has its own health coverage information Web portal at healthcare.gov (McQueen, 8/29).

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