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As COBRA Subsidies Expire, Unemployed Fear High Insurance Costs

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As part of its Bearing Witness 2.0 project, the Huffington Post is rounding up compelling local stories about the victims of the recession.

Federal subsidies that help laid-off worker pay for their COBRA health insurance coverage ended this week for millions of Americans who signed up when the subsidies began in March. The COBRA program lets former employees continue the health coverage they had with their former employer. The federal subsidy pays up to 65 percent of an individual's or family's premiums, but expires after nine months.

Alida Holmes, 60, has not been uninsured since she was 16, but will drop her COBRA coverage because she can no longer afford to pay for it, reports Patricia Anstett for the Detroit Free Press. Holmes, a laid-off legal secretary with high blood pressure and a lung disorder, has been stockpiling her medication for the past several months -- cutting back so she will have some pills to tide her over while she in uninsured. "It's very worrisome for me," she tells the Free Press, "but there's nothing I can do about it."

In San Jose, Calif., Jim Kvek, who suffers from Parkinson's disease, is dealing with the sudden cost increase at the same time he's trying to keep his house from being foreclosed on at the end of the month, reports Patrick May for the Mercury News. "I don't have the 500 extra dollars [to pay for COBRA] and I'll have to find somebody to borrow the money from before I lose my coverage," he said. "This is a huge hardship for me, and I have no Plan B," he tells the Mercury News.

In Wichita, Kan., KSN-TV's Anthony Powell talks to Mark Lunsford, who is unemployed and spends his days looking for work. Lunsford wasn't able to afford COBRA even with the government subsidy, he says. But, he notes, now the "poor man is getting poorer."

Janice Houston tells Lisa Rosetta of the Salt Lake Tribune that she's been relying on the subsidy -- although even with it, she had to drop the coverage on her children when she lost her job in March, and it's still not really affordable. "Even with the subsidy it was something like $500 a month," she tells Rosetta. But her pre-existing condition makes it almost impossible for her to afford an individual policy.

Families USA, a health care advocacy group, released a report Tuesday asserting that, without subsidies, COBRA coverage will cost the unemployed an average of 83 percent of their unemployment checks. Legislation extending the subsidies has been proposed, but so far has gone nowhere.

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Food stamps use is at record levels in Utah, reports John Daley for KSL 5 News. Almost 100,000 families in the state registered for assistance this year -- about 50 percent more than last year. Utah's food stamp program is among the fastest growing in the nation.

Daley talks to food stamp recipient Linda Cossins, who lost her job after suffering an array of health problems three years ago. "What I'm doing with my friends -- I have a lot of friends who lost their job over the summer. You know what? We bring cans of food together and make a meal and share it," Cossins tells Daley.

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Tracy Hardy, of Tulsa, Okla., is unemployed, uninsured, and struggling to keep her four children out of homelessness, Mike Averill writes as part of the Tulsa World's Neediest Families Fund Drive. Two years ago, Hardy divorced her drug-addicted husband, whose habit had forced her to close her day-care center.

Since then, her infant son needed to have open-heart surgery soon after birth. Her nine-year-old daughter has Erb's palsy, and requires frequent hospitalization and therapy. The children are on the state's SoonerCare plan, but Hardy herself has no insurance and has diabetes, so pays for her treatment out of her own pocket. In January, her house was foreclosed on, leaving her family homeless for a month, and soon after that their car was repossessed.

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In the Philadelphia Inquirer, Jane M. Von Bergen profiles the Main Line, a collection of wealthy towns outside of Philadelphia, to show how even the well-off are not immune to the recession. Over the last two years unemployment has risen as much as 730 percent in some Main Line suburbs, and once-ubiquitous golf outing charity fundraisers are now canceled or forever delayed.

For people used to a lavish lifestyle, old habits are hard to break. "It's smoke and mirrors," Nicole Chabat, who lost her job last month, tells Von Bergen. "You keep up the varnish, but everybody's hurting."


HuffPost readers: Seen a compelling local story? Have a neighbor going to extreme lengths to get through the recession? Tell us about it! Email jmhattem@gmail.com.


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