Report: Jobless without insurance

Posted Feb. 06, 2009, at 8:22 p.m.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Most low-income people who lose their jobs are also without health insurance, a report released Friday concludes.

A study by the advocacy group Families USA says 54 percent of the nation’s unemployed cannot afford private insurance and also are not covered under Medicaid. The percentage in Maine was also 54 percent, representing 11,815 workers, according to the study.

The report focuses on middle-class and lower-income workers with annual incomes of about $44,100 for a family of four, or about double the poverty level.

Only one in five unemployed workers within that income level has private insurance or military coverage. Meanwhile, only one in four unemployed workers at that level got coverage through Medicaid, the government sponsored insurance program for the poor.

In December 2008, there were an estimated 5.8 million people out of work with incomes below twice the poverty level, and about 3.1 million of them did not have insurance, Families USA estimated.

The report was compiled as lawmakers consider expanding access to Medicaid and subsidizing the cost of maintaining private coverage, also called COBRA, through an economic stimulus bill.

“Most laid-off workers can’t afford COBRA coverage and do not qualify for public health safety-net programs,” said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA. “As a result, millions of middle-class and lower-income workers become uninsured.”

In 43 states, Pollack said, Medicaid is simply unavailable for adults who don’t have children — unless they are permanently disabled.

“Even if those adults are penniless, they are ineligible,” the report said.

Maine is one of the few states that allows limited Medicaid enrollment of childless adults.

The Maine Department of Labor reports the total number of unemployed Mainers rose to 49,300 in December 2008, up from 33,400 in December 2007.

Cherilee Budrick of the Augusta-based advocacy group Consumers for Affordable Health Care said Friday that the number of calls to the organization’s consumer help line is increasing.

“More people are calling because they’ve lost their jobs. Some have been offered COBRA, but they can’t afford the payments when they’re on unemployment,” she said. The help line number is 800-976-7476.

Maine’s nonprofit hospitals are required to provide free or discounted care to income-eligible patients, Budrick said, but many people don’t know it and some hospitals don’t broadcast the service.

“People without insurance should ask to fill out an application,” she said.

Budrick added that Maine law allows people receiving unemployment benefits 180 days to find new health coverage before insurance companies can refuse coverage for pre-existing conditions, a longer time than other states allow.

Families USA’s report was based on estimates provided by the Lewin Group, which is owned by Ingenix, a subsidiary of UnitedHealth Group.

BDN reporter Meg Haskell contributed to this report.

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