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Lt. Gov. Roberts Calls for Extension of Health Benefits for Rhode Island Unemployed

Lt. Gov. Elizabeth H. Roberts today called on Congress to extend a federal subsidy that helps unemployed Rhode Islanders keep their health insurance. Through the COBRA premium assistance program, federal stimulus funds are available to help unemployed Rhode Islanders pay for continuing their health insurance coverage. The federal funds cover 65% of health insurance premium costs for laid-off workers. However, that subsidy was only scheduled to last 9 months, and a large number of program participants will see the cost of their health insurance skyrocket on December 1 unless the federal subsidy is continued.

“Unemployment has reached crisis proportions in Rhode Island. We must do whatever we can to help unemployed Rhode Islanders keep their health insurance coverage. I have asked our congressional delegation to extend the premium assistance program, which has helped to keep many Rhode Island families healthy by keeping them insured. To help unemployed Rhode Islanders keep their coverage, this assistance from the federal government is essential,” said Roberts.

Without the subsidy, the unemployed would be forced to pay 100% of their health premium, a cost so high that many will have to drop coverage.

“My office is receiving calls daily asking if Congress is going to extend the program; people are afraid that they will have to drop coverage because it is simply unaffordable,” Roberts continued. “In a state like Rhode Island, where unemployment rates continue to rise, extending the program past its 9 month window, as well as allowing newly unemployed to take advantage of the benefit after January 1, is so important.”

The COBRA premium assistance program uses federal stimulus funds to pay 65% of the health insurance premium for workers who were laid-off or whose employer closed. The covered individual pays the rest. The benefit lasts 9 months. In April, Roberts secured passage of state legislation that allowed Rhode Islanders whose employer closed prior to March 1 to get back into the system and take advantage of the federal subsidy. The subsidy will start to expire on December 1 if Congress does not take action to extend it.

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