A few weeks ago, our community was shocked to learn that one of the most respected D-bloggers, Scott Johnson, was let go from his company. Although losing a job for anyone in this economy is a hard blow, it is especially worrisome for those of us with a serious, chronic medical condition like diabetes -- which requires expensive constant monitoring, daily medications and regular visits with the doctor.
So how are Scott and others effected in our community handling their job loss? And what resources and strategies are they relying on until they are able to regain employment? A few mini case studies that may interest you:
Scott, who just turned 34 and lives in the Minneapolis area, was ironically laid off from a diabetes company -- the Cozmo division of Smiths Medical. Since this just happened recently (we all found out Cozmo was going out business on March 25, the same day Scott found out about the lay-offs), Scott is still receiving severance pay and medical insurance coverage for about another six weeks, at which point he will switch to his wife's medical insurance coverage. Unfortunately, Scott says, "It is more expensive and offers less coverage for DME equipment and supplies."
Most people who are laid off are eligible for an extension of their health insurance through the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, which most of you will recognize as COBRA, which allows workers to pay to remain on their employer's health policy for up to 18 months. However, for most people who are unemployed, paying for COBRA is ridiculously expensive. A study released by Families USA found the average national premiums cost for family COBRA to eat up about 84% of the average unemployment benefits, and for individuals, it's about 30%. This leaves very little for a mortgage or rent, utilities, food and other basics.
Melissa, a 28-year-old living in Massachusetts, lost her job after her position was combined with another one, requiring more hours than this part-time college student could afford.
"My employer knew this upon offering me the position and while they did not anticipate that I would choose to refuse the position, they left me no choice," Melissa says. "I was able to stay with the company for a month after the decision was made due to freedom in my schedule."
For Melissa, living in Massachusetts comes with the benefit that the law actually requires every individual to have health insurance, so for those who are unemployed the state has a system called Commonwealth Care. The cost is based on income, and since Melissa has no income, she doesn't pay anything. Although the insurance covers prescription medication and doctors' appointments, she's limited to only 5 test strips a day, which is... well, problematic for someone trying to maintain tight BG control. If Melissa had gone with the COBRA option, the cost of coverage would've been $500 a month.
Bernard, another well-known D-blogger and Massachusetts resident, was laid off from his job during company-wide cuts in January. He currently is on COBRA, but says he hopes to soon join an organization (IEEE, or local chamber of commerce) that would give him access to affordable insurance including "pre-existing condition coverage." Bernard was lucky that COBRA covered a trip to the emergency room during a recent low blood sugar episode.
Tammy, a 43-year-old from Alabama, was laid off from work just weeks before she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in December 2008. Because she had not finished transferring to COBRA, she has to pay all of her hospital bills out of pocket. She averages $300 a month on her diabetes medication, and she only makes $230 a week on unemployment, leaving very little to finance the rest of her life. Luckily, Tammy's family has been able to assist with paying for her medication. Tammy's very fortunate that her employer has recently asked her to come back, so she'll be returning to work in mid-May. She kept a positive outlook throughout, saying, "Never give up, brighter days are ahead no matter how grim your situation looks now."
Did You Know...?
The Obama Administration has created a new plan for COBRA, which mandates that the federal government will pick up 65% of the cost of COBRA premiums. Wow. Downside? While people can remain on COBRA coverage for up to 18 months, the discount only lasts 9 months. Also, if you quit your job or were fired for misconduct, you're out of luck. In addition, you must have lost your job after August 31, 2008. But for someone eligible, like Bernard, it's a godsend. He says his current monthly costs are around $1300, but with the new subsidy, that amount will drop to around $460.
Finding health insurance coverage while healthy is a headache, and finding it while dealing a chronic illness can seem near impossible. Bernard's advice: "First of all, don't panic. Take stock of your financial situation and immediately drop any unnecessary items (cable bills, newspaper subscriptions, eating out, morning coffee, etc.) See if there are other ways to reduce costs. I've sold some older technical books on Amazon, which gives me more shelf space and about $250 to date. I also connected with several places and managed to get some short-term programming work. Figure out whether your unemployment insurance will help. In Massachusetts, there is a program that pays for some of the COBRA costs if you qualify."
Some more good tips, courtesy of the community:
- Find out what your maximum allowance for diabetes supplies is and stock up (think of it as a diabetes savings account).
- Remember that you must transfer to COBRA within 60 days of losing your job.
- Pay attention to the fine print of some of those "too good to be true" health insurance scams -- it probably is!
- Find out what state-assisted health insurance programs there are (like Commonwealth Care) and if whether you, or your family members, might qualify.
- If you have children, they may qualify for federally supported children's health insurance.
- Check out the Foundation for Health Coverage Education (coverageforall.org), which offers mucho info on a variety of health insurance programs (although whether diabetes is an immediate disqualifier remains TBD).
Although many agree that universal health care -- or at least some variation thereof -- is necessary to aid the millions of Americans now without health insurance, the question of how this will happen is still up for debate on all fronts. Until then, we're pretty much on our own figuring out how to pay for it...
Have you lost your job and are dealing with finding health insurance? Share your story and any guidance you might have in the comments section below. As usual, I will keep you all posted on anything ground-breaking as it appears.