About 27,000 more Kansans lost health coverage during the first eight months of this year because of job losses, bringing the total number of uninsured adults in the state to 293,000.
The average unemployment rate rose from 4.4 percent in 2008 to 6.6 percent between January and August of this year.
According to Families USA, a national organization for health care consumers, 62 percent of Americans under age 65 get their health coverage through a job — their own or a relative’s.
Therefore, job loss often means loss of health coverage because the government COBRA plan, which allows workers to retain insurance for 18 months after losing a job, and individual plans are simply too expensive, especially when coupled with less income.
Need for reform
Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, said this is why health care reform needs to be adopted. It will provide people who are unemployed more — and less expensive — options.
“The uninsured are less likely to get the care that they need when they need it, and they may face a financial catastrophe when medical bills start to pile up,” Pollack said.
Nationally, the unemployment rate rose from 5.8 percent in 2008 to 8.9 percent this year, adding about 4 million adults to the uninsured list.
Families USA now estimates that about 50 million Americans have no health insurance. In Kansas, the total number of uninsured is estimated at 340,000 with 13,000 in Douglas County.
Families USA released the numbers Tuesday in a report — “One-Two Punch: Unemployed and Uninsured” — based on a model created by economists at The Urban Institute.
Pollack outlined some ways health care reform could help the unemployed gain coverage:
l He said all of the health care reform bills increase the eligibility level for Medicaid on a national level. So anyone with an income below 133 percent of the federal poverty level will be eligible for Medicaid. For a family of four, that is roughly $29,300 annually. He said Congress is aware that they can’t fund the program the way it is now.
Currently, the federal government pays about 56 percent of the costs and states pick up the rest.
“The federal government is going to have to kick in considerably higher dollars than they do in the current Medicaid program,” Pollack said. “That certainly is going to happen, and my hope is that ultimately the federal government will pick up 100 percent of the costs. Right now, it looks like it will be in the high 90 percent in terms of the portion that they will pick up.”
• People with incomes between 133 percent of the poverty level and 400 percent — which is $88,200 annually for a family of four — could access coverage through a new marketplace called an exchange. He said people also could qualify for a sliding scale subsidy.
• The health reform bills include limits on out-of-pocket costs.
• The bills include measures so companies can no longer deny health coverage based on pre-existing conditions or charge a discriminatory premium based on such a condition. They also won’t be able to put an annual or lifetime cap on what insurance pays for health costs.
Issue hits home
Jerry Kemberling, 63, Lawrence, knows all too well the importance of health care reform.
He lost his job at Sauer-Danfoss in February, and he’s had trouble finding a job and health coverage.
He said the COBRA program was too expensive. It was going to cost him and his 62-year-old wife, who doesn’t work, $1,039 a month.
They looked at private health insurance, but it also was pricey.
“They were wanting $1,504 per month. So it’s just their polite way of getting out of an age discrimination situation — just pricing you out of the market. It’s a rotten deal.”
Luckily the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act approved in mid-February has allowed Kemberling to continue COBRA at $368 a month through the end of the year.
He fears he might become uninsured unless he finds a job with health benefits. He is taking 15 hours of college courses.
“You are basically told that you don’t count for nothing in society,” Kemberling said. “Congress had better step up to the plate and take charge of this situation because there are too many people in this country now who are being affected by this. It’s time that they do something with health care for the average person.”