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Shaheen, Senators Introduce Bill to Protect Unemployed Workers’ Health Insurance during Pandemic

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and a group of lawmakers led by U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) reintroduced the Worker Health Coverage Protection Act, legislation that would protect millions of unemployed or furloughed workers from losing their health insurance in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic. The bill would allow laid off workers to remain on their employer health plans, through the COBRA program, at no cost.

“As a result of this public health and economic crisis, millions of American workers have been left unemployed and without access to their employer-sponsored health insurance. Now more than ever, it’s imperative that Congress takes action to ensure impacted families continue to have access to quality, affordable health care,” said Shaheen. “This legislation will help unemployed and furloughed Americans maintain coverage and afford the medical services they need during these challenging times. Our nation is experiencing a public health and financial emergency – keeping Americans covered must be a top congressional priority, and our legislation will help us do just that.”

Since the middle of March, millions of Americans have filed for unemployment benefits, with an estimated 10 to 15 million having also lost their employer-sponsored health insurance.  In Illinois, more than 660,000 Illinoisans are claiming unemployment benefits—resulting in many also without health insurance during the pandemic.  Many unemployed Americans would prefer to remain on their employer health plan, known as COBRA, but it is often prohibitively expensive—on average, more than $1,750 per month for a family.

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. Estimates suggest this policy could support 14 million Americans in these trying times.

This bill 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.

Joining Shaheen, Durbin and Cortez Masto in introducing this bill includes: U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Jack Reed (D-RI), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Tina Smith (D-MN), and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN).