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The Toll of Job Loss on Health Insurance Coverage

In this period of chronically high unemployment, millions of Americans are losing their health insurance coverage along with their jobs. This has serious repercussions: Nearly three-quarters of people who lost their employer-sponsored health insurance when they lost their jobs over the last two years said that they skipped needed health care or did not fill prescriptions because of cost, according to a new Commonwealth Fund brief and blog post. The same proportion is struggling with medical bills or medical debt, compared with about half of those who lost jobs but not their health insurance.

The brief, by Commonwealth Fund researchers Michelle M. Doty, Ph.D., Sara R. Collins, Ph.D., and colleagues, finds that unemployed workers have few affordable coverage options. While continuing health coverage through the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) is an option for certain workers, the cost is prohibitively high and few choose to purchase it.

When fully implemented in 2014, the Affordable Care Act will dramatically increase health insurance options for people who lose their jobs. Even so, the authors say there will still be a role for COBRA to minimize costs associated with filling short gaps in coverage.

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