WASHINGTON, DC - In an effort to prevent more people from becoming uninsured amidst a public health crisis, U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) joined Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) in introducing the Worker Health Coverage Protection Act (S. 4714).  This legislation would expand health benefits under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) to allow workers who have lost their jobs to maintain their current health coverage without interruption.  Under the bill, the federal government would provide emergency premium assistance for 100 percent of the cost of COBRA coverage for up to nine months – or until workers return to the workforce – to ensure health care stability throughout the pandemic.

“People who’ve lost their jobs are struggling in the midst of a pandemic.  They’ve lost their job, their paycheck, and the one thing they can’t afford to lose right now is their health coverage.  If Congress doesn’t act, this massive loss of health coverage could put people’s lives and the economy at risk.  One hospitalization with no insurance could set families down a path to bankruptcy or financial ruin.  Congress must step up and ensure hardworking people who’ve lost their jobs or been furloughed can continue to access lifesaving health coverage.  The Worker Health Coverage Protection Act would help those who’ve been hit hardest by providing a cost-effective, targeted lifeline that allows folks to keep their coverage until they can return to work,” said Senator Reed.

Since the middle of March, approximately 57 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits, with an estimated 10 to 15 million having also lost their employer-sponsored health insurance.  Many unemployed Americans would prefer to remain on their employer-based health plan, under COBRA, but it is often prohibitively expensive – on average, $1,700 per month for a family.

According to a recent analysis by consumer finance company Credit Karma, nearly 20 million Americans are facing a total of $45 billion of medical debt in collections in 2020.

The Worker Health Coverage Protection Act would allow workers who have been involuntarily terminated in nearly all employment-based health plans, including private sector plans covered by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), multiemployer plans, state and local government plans, and the Federal Health Benefits Program, to access subsidized COBRA coverage.  Specifically, it would provide a 100 percent subsidy of COBRA health insurance premiums owed by unemployed workers to ensure that they do not lose coverage due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Furloughed workers whose health benefits continue while pay is suspended would also have their employee contributions 100 percent subsidized.  These subsidies would not impact workers’ eligibility for unemployment benefits or other types of state or federal assistance.

The Worker Health Coverage Protection Act would also extend the period during which workers could elect COBRA coverage, and enable workers to access coverage even if they declined it before the subsidy was made available, thereby ensuring continuity of care amid the health and economic challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Employers and federal agencies would be required to conduct new notice and outreach activities to ensure workers are aware of the availability of the credit.

In addition to Durbin and Reed, the bill is cosponsored by U.S. Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Tina Smith (D-MN), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), and Gary Peters (D-MI).

The Worker Health Coverage Protection Act has been endorsed by a diverse coalition of supporters, including: AFL-CIO; UNITE HERE; Families USA; the American Hospital Association, and Alliance to Fight for Health Care; Actors' Equity Association; Air Line Pilots Association, International (ALPA); Alliance for Retired Americans (ARA); American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME); American Federation of Teachers (AFT); Communications Workers of America (CWA); International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE); International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART); International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers and Helpers (IBB); International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT); International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW); United Steel Workers.