Stimulus funding key to extending Colorado COBRA coverage

Colorado Consumer Health Initiative is warning that unless Congress acts this week to extend unemployment health care coverage, or COBRA benefits, as part of the federal stimulus package, half a million Coloradans will lose their coverage in the next year. For perspective, that’s roughly the population of Boulder, Broomfield, Commerce City, Durango, Fort Collins, Fountain, Grand Junction, Littleton and Pueblo combined.

According to the consumer watchdog group, roughly 221,000 Coloradans are unemployed and seeking work and depending on COBRA health care coverage. Census figures put the number of dependents at roughly half a million. Average monthly unemployment benefits are $1503 and, without COBRA coverage, health insurance would jump to $1076 per month, an unsustainable 74 percent of income that would leave about $400 for the average 2.5 member family to spend on everything else, including on food and housing.

Republicans have mocked the stimulus and questioned where the money has gone. GOP candidates for governor, including Dan Maes, have said they would reject all federal money and the stimulus plan in particular. The kind of eye-popping figures released by the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative today suggest the stimulus has worked mostly by preventing the personal and public financial catastrophes that would mount in its absence.

CCHI has issued a report on the consequences of the stimulus vote this week, available as a pdf here.

From the organization’s release Monday:

DENVER – The family health care of 220,700 out-of-work, Colorado job-seekers is at risk if Congress does not extend COBRA coverage as part of the stimulus plan (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or ARRA) spending they will take up this coming week in Washington, DC. Assuming the U.S. Census average for Colorado families of 2.54, this would mean that 560,578 Coloradans might not have health care if the extension is not passed.

[...]

Right now, the average monthly unemployment benefit is $1,503 and with the $699 average family COBRA health care subsidy, job-seekers are responsible for $376 of the premium. Without that help, premiums will escalate to $1,076, a whopping 74% of income, leaving only $427 to cover rent, food, medicine and other essentials.

“Colorado job-seekers simply can’t afford health care when it eats up 74% of their monthly budget,” said Dede de Percin, Colorado Consumer Health Initiative executive director. “When you do the math, it’s clear that it’s an impossible situation for Colorado families.”

[...]

Also at issue in the ARRA vote this week is the state fiscal relief provided by the increased percentage for Medicaid Federal Medical Assistance Program (FMAP). Expected to be extended through June 2011, FMAP was stripped from the House version of the HR 4213, the “tax extender” bill. All states are still reeling from the recession revenue hits–especially Colorado, which is also struggling with constitutional fiscal limits–and all have already counted on the FMAP dollars as they put together 2011 budgets. Colorado is depending on approximately $2.25 million balance the 2010-2011 budget, and will have to make cuts to the budget starting July 1, 2010 if the FMAP “bump” is not restored by the Senate and passed by the House.


* NOTE: CCHI originally reported that a half million Coloradans could lose coverage this week. CCHI updates its release to say those Coloradans would lose their coverage over the course of the next year.

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About the Author

John Tomasic

Writer, editor, web wrangler. He has worked for art, business, culture, politics publications and for a UN war crimes commission.
jtomasic@coloradoindependent.com | 720-432-2128 | @johntomasic

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