August 18, 2009

COBRA enrollment doubles

Unemployed Americans are signing up for COBRA healthcare benefits at twice the previous rate due to a federal subsidy, a private research group found.

Since the federal government began subsidizing COBRA payments in February, 38 percent of eligible former workers have signed up for the program, Hewitt Associates said. Previous to the subsidy, which pays 65 percent of the premium, 19 percent were signing up, USA Today reported Tuesday.

The Kaiser Family Foundation said the average family premium dropped to $377 a month with the subsidy. Prior to February, the average premium was more than $1,000 a month.

Healthcare watchdog group Families USA said family insurance before the subsidy was prohibitively expensive, costing people, on average, 84 percent of their unemployment benefits.

Employers should expect and prepare for COBRA enrollments to remain at their inflated levels, particularly since the subsidy is available to those workers laid off through the end of 2009, said Karen Frost, health and welfare outsourcing strategy leader at Hewitt.