People choosing between food and health insurance

By Philippe Djegal - email
Posted by Ellen Krafve - bio | email

TYLER, TX (KLTV) - Higher premiums are causing millions to chose between food or health insurance. In February, Congress created the program COBRA as a part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, otherwise known as the "stimulus package."

The COBRA subsidy allows unemployed Americans to keep buying health insurance through their former employer at a fraction of the full-cost.

The program will end on December 31st, so if you lose your job after that point, you might be out of luck. But, both the Senate and the House have introduced bills that would extend the subsidy six months longer, but health officials don't expect either to pass.

The Consolidated Omnibus Reconciliation Act of 2009, or COBRA, costs about $25-billion and according to the Congressional Budget Office by the end of the year, more than 7,000,000 Americans will have opted in. The program covered 65% of your health insurance cost.

"I expect to see a big increase," said Susan Roberts, a prescription assistance coordinator.

Roberts is preparing an increase in demand at PATH for medical assistance as jobless East Texans cope with higher premium rates.

"They're not going to be able to afford their medication, like their diabetes medicine, heart medicine, blood pressure, and they have no way to pay for them and the cost is exorbitant," said Roberts.

"Congress needs to do whatever they can to make sure people have affordable insurance," said Dr. Bennie Webster. "If it means that extending COBRA [then] yes."

According to the non-partisan, non-profit Families USA, with the COBRA subsidy, American families paid an average of $722 per month for health insurance. Without the subsidy, the average cost skyrockets to more than $1,100. That's more than 80-percent of the average monthly unemployment check.

"What we do know [is that] for every job, there's six people looking for it," said Stephen Lynch, the Area Director for the East Texas Workforce Solutions Center.

Lynch says money is no longer the most important aspect of working.

"Now they're looking at the benefit package because it...affects the entire family," said Lynch.

And, for thousands of families, time is running out.

©2009 KLTV. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.