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More about the COBRA subsidy

One thing is clear, only those who lost their jobs between Sept. 1, 2008, and Dec. 31, 2009, are eligible.

March 09, 2009|Francesca Lunzer Kritz

After last week's column on the insurance subsidy included in President Obama's stimulus package, we received quite a lot of mail asking more questions. That's understandable. The details are complicated.

In a nutshell, some laid-off employees can get a 65% subsidy, for up to nine months, to help defray the cost of continuing their healthcare coverage through a program known as COBRA. The subsidy only applies to people who lost, or will lose, their jobs between Sept. 1, 2008, and Dec. 31, 2009.

No money changes hands. People who qualify for the subsidy will pay their employers for 35% (instead of 100%) of coverage costs each month they receive subsidies, up to nine months. If an employee continues with COBRA after the nine months, the payment goes up to full cost.

With help from Kelly Traw, a principal with Washington, D.C., benefits consulting firm Mercer, and Sharon Cohen, an expert on employee benefits with consulting firm Watson Wyatt, also in Washington, we've answered some of your most-asked questions.

For more answers, go to the Department of Labor's website: www.dol.gov/ebsa/cobra .html. Still have questions? Call a Labor benefits advisor at (866) 444-3272.

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It looks like the subsidy is an option only for qualified individuals who lost their job, and the health coverage that came with it, between Sept. 1, 2008 and Dec. 31, 2009. I lost my job and health insurance in August 2008. Do I qualify?

Sorry, no. This detail of the subsidy is clear. The payment assistance for qualified individuals is for people who lost their jobs and coverage on or after Sept. 1, 2008. Even if changes and extensions are later made to the subsidy provision, it would be more likely for jobs lost after Dec. 31, 2009.

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I lost my job after Sept. 1, 2008, but my employer was sold and is shutting down. Do I qualify for the subsidy?

Sorry, but no. You don't qualify for COBRA unless your employer is still offering health benefits. If no plan is being offered, there is no way for you to continue coverage under your employer's plan.

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My daughter was laid off in September. Is she eligible for retroactive COBRA subsidy payments from the beginning of her layoff, or only payments going forward?

Only payments going forward, beginning Feb. 17, 2009, or for companies that charge on a calendar month, beginning March 1, 2009.

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health@latimes.com

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