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Soon-To-Be-Uninsurable Man Would Have Been Helped By Health Reform

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Subash Majumdar said he was hospitalized with kidney failure the same day lost his job as the finance director at a computer hardware company in December 2008.

He kept his former employer's health insurance via the COBRA program, which allows laid-off workers to continue to get benefits by paying the full cost for the group plan, typically for 18 months. He got a new kidney last October, but he's still unemployed. In four months, his COBRA insurance will expire -- and he'll be uninsurable because of his preexisting condition.

"I don't know what to do," said Majumdar in an interview with HuffPost. "My doctor keeps telling me, 'Don't stress because you will lose your kidney.' Here I am not sleeping at night."

Majumdar, who lives with his wife in Irvine, Calif. and describes himself as "middle-aged," might not be in this stressful situation if the Democrats had managed to finish the health insurance reform that passed both chambers of Congress at the end of last year.

The House version of reform would have allowed Majumdar to keep his COBRA benefits until 2013, when an "exchange" is set up that would allow him to choose from a range of affordable policies, none of which would be allowed to discriminate against him because of his preexisting kidney problems. Failing a COBRA extension, both the House and Senate bills would have immediately created and funded an "interim high-risk pool" where uninsurable people like Majumdar could buy coverage before the exchange is ready. Those pools were supposed to be set up on Jan. 1.

Majumdar will not be without government assistance in his current predicament. Medicare offers broad coverage for kidney failure patients, including for dialysis and transplants. But the coverage lasts only for three years after a transplant. If Majumdar can't find a way to pay for his immuno-suppressive medicine three years from now, he could wind up with another failed kidney, and conceivably back on Medicare for more dialysis and another expensive transplant. It's a scenario the New York Times said showed that the three-year limit on treatment for transplant patients is "pound foolish."

Again, health insurance reform to the rescue: The House bill would have undone the three-year limit.

It's not clear whether House and Senate negotiators agreed to any of the more generous provisions of the House bill before the Democrats lost their 60-vote supermajority in the Senate and gave up on their legislation. It's also not clear what President Obama plans to emphasize at his Feb. 25 health care summit with congressional leaders from both parties.

Majumdar currently pays $675 a month for his insurance (though many people laid off after September 2008 were eligible for a 65-percent subsidy of COBRA insurance). Majumdar said that even if he doesn't have any more problems, Medicare covers only 80 percent of some treatments, and he doesn't know how he'll afford the rest -- not to mention his other prescription drugs.

He said that he only recently recovered enough strength to renew his job search, and the outlook is bleak.

"I spoke to some headhunters," he said. "Let's put it this way: It is not encouraging."

HuffPost readers: Is your COBRA coverage going to expire soon? Tell us about it -- email arthur@huffingtonpost.com.

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