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COBRA Extension Bill introduced: Contact Congress in support of this important legislation!

May 31, 2010 6 comments

Millions of unemployed Americans rely on their COBRA health care coverage.  COBRA coverage, however, typically only lasts for 18 months after you leave an employer.  Cancer treatment, like that for many chronic diseases, knows no time limit and can often take years of chemotherapy and/or radiation before a patient is cured.  This puts cancer patients who are in treatment and currently relying on COBRA in a particular bind.

Well, there is hope on the horizon.  Last week, U.S. Representatives Susan A. Davis (D-San Diego), Robert Andrews (D-NJ) and Joe Courtney (D-CT) introduced legislation to allow those people currently on COBRA to hold on to their health care coverage longer.

The COBRA Health Benefits Extension Act (H.R. 5324) allows those currently enrolled in COBRA to purchase their insurance beyond the standard eligibility period, generally 18 months, until they either find another job offering coverage or become eligible for the an insurance exchange to be created by the new health reform law.

“The extension of coverage will give those currently on COBRA peace of mind that they will have health security,” said Davis.  “Losing a job that has health insurance coverage while treating an illness at the same time is a frightening prospect for so many people and their families.  We need to give people a bridge between coverage.”

“The health care reform bill that became law in March was the first step to providing all Americans access to affordable health insurance, but those struggling without a job simply cannot afford to wait for some provisions to take effect,” said Congressman Andrews. “This legislation ensures that recently unemployed Americans will not lose their health benefits before the new insurance exchanges are up and running. Rather COBRA enrollees can rest a bit easier knowing that the health and wellbeing of their families will not be jeopardized while the changes to our health care system gradually take effect.”

“Weathering unemployment is difficult enough without also having to worry about health care costs or how to pay for a catastrophic injury,” Courtney said. “With long-term health care fixes on the way, it is important to provide a bridge to fuller benefits, and extending COBRA coverage will do just that for many Americans. Erasing the worry of expiring benefits will lift a significant weight from overburdened men and women who can now focus on their futures and their families.” 

Davis, Andrews and Courtney all serve on the House Education and Labor Committee, which has jurisdiction over H.R. 5324. 

COBRA coverage can be extremely valuable to those facing a serious health problem or chronic condition.  The average cost of treating breast cancer rose to nearly $21,000 and prostate cancer to over $41,000 in 2008, according to the National Cancer Institute.  The costs for treating cholangiocarcinoma are even higher in my personal experience:  Every trip to the chemo suite carries with it an insurance billing of approximately $9,000 – $14,000 (depending on drugs used), and that is with plan discounts.  This is a 3 time-a-month occurence for me now.  That of course does not include CT scans, lab work or physician consults.  Out of pocket costs for cholangiocarcinoma patients can easily top $10,000 – $15,000/year even with COBRA insurance coverage. 

Here’s how you can act to show your support of this important legislation:  Contact your U.S. Congressperson and two U.S. Senators and let them know that as a voting constituent, you support this important piece of legislation and expect them to support it as well.  It doesn’t carry any cost to the taxpayer as the costs of the premiums are paid by the insured who have elected COBRA coverage with a small fee paid by employers.  Here is a link to a site that will help you to identify your U.S. Congressional Representatives and U.S. Senators if you’re unsure who they are: http://www.usa.gov/Contact/Elected.shtml

Here is sample verbiage that you can use in a letter or email to your Congressional Representatives and Senators:

Dear Representative/Senator_____:

I am writing you to ask your support of an important piece of legislation that will offer protection to millions of unemployed Americans.  The COBRA Health Benefits Extension Act (H.R. 5324) allows those currently enrolled in COBRA to purchase their insurance beyond the standard eligibility period,  until they either find another job offering coverage or become eligible for the an insurance exchange to be created by the new health reform law.

This bill would not create a burden on taxpayers as the costs would be born by the insured.  It would offer a safety net for those unemployed or self-employed and their families currently relying on COBRA benefits. 

Thank you for supporting this bill.

Respectfully yours,

(name, address, city)

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Healthcare Reform – Act Now!

February 15, 2010 3 comments

Capitol in Snow

Congress gets a snow day

 

While Washington, D.C. is digging out of the recent snowfall, congress is on a short recess spending time this week in their districts.  Now is the perfect time to let your elected officials know how important it is to pass meaningful healthcare reform soon!  This isn’t a Democrat or Republican issue…it’s a patient issue.  If you’re reading this post, it’s because you share an interest in patient issues, especially surrounding those with chronic, debilitating and life threatening illnesses like cancer.  If you are a cancer patient, you know firsthand how difficult navigating through the insurance coverage for your disease is – if you’re lucky enough to have insurance.  If not, well you’ve got company in the 45 million Americans who are uninsured1.  Even with insurance, many of our fellow Americans are one cancer diagnosis away from medical bankruptcy;  In a recent study of personal bankruptcies in the United States, over 62% are related in part to overwhelming medical expenses due to a medical condition2.  This is 20 percentage points higher than respondents attributed to medical reasons in 2001.  Pre-existing exclusions, waiting periods for treatment or loss of coverage is a real threat to the 45% of the population or 133 million Americans managing a chronic disease3.  These people are essentially one job change away from a 12 month pre-existing exclusion for their disease.  This “Job-Lock” is not a good position to be in during these economic times.     

So what can you do?  The answer is, in fact, quite a lot.  Let your elected officials know that they must pass reform now!  There are two bills pending in congress – one in the house and one in the senate – both of which cover most of the necessary corrections to our current healthcare delivery and insurance system such as the elimination of pre-existing conditions and caps on out of pocket expenses to protect patients from medical bankruptcy.   Below is a link to a National Patient Advocate Foundation  Action Alert.  It allows you to enter your demographic information and it will then identify for you your Congressional Representative and U.S. Senators.  It has editable text that urges congress to pass meaningful reform and you can designate whether it is to be sent via email, fax or letter.  It is a convenient, quick way to get the message to congress that they must act now to pass meaningful healthcare reform.     Click on this URL to take action now: http://capwiz.com/npaf/issues/alert/?alertid=14612846  Or you can copy the entire URL and paste it into your Web browser.       

 If ever congress needed to hear from Americans about the importance of passing meaningful healthcare reform, it is now.  Don’t be mislead by the hype, fear mongering and sound bites of those who want to maintain the status quo – it is unacceptable!  The option to do nothing or to scrap the hard work and legislation that have been crafted so far and start again (as a delay tactic) is not an option.       

Note: In the spirit of full and open disclosure, I must state that in addition to currently battling my own cancer, I am a volunteer for the National Patient Advocate Foundation (NPAF).  NPAF is a national non-profit organization providing the patient voice in improving access to, and reimbursement for, high-quality healthcare through regulatory and legislative reform at the state and federal levels.  NPAF translates the experience of millions of patients who have been helped by our companion, Patient Advocate Foundation, which provides professional case management services to individuals facing barriers to healthcare access for chronic and disabling disease, medical debt crisis and employment-related issues at no cost.       

 References:       

 1. U.S Census Bureau. “Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2007.” August, 2008       

 2. David U. Himmelstein, MD, Deborah Thorne, PhD, Elizabeth Warren, JD, Steffie Woolhandler, MD, MPH. “Medical Bankruptcy in the United States, 2007: Results of a National Study.” American Journal of Medicine, Volume 20, No. 10, 2009.        

 3. Wu, S. Green, A. Projection of Chronic Illness Prevalence and Cost Inflation, RAND Corporation, October 2000.