This morning I read the New York Times’ front-page piece about Obama’s stimulus plan, and nearly spat out my coffee as I read this passage near the top of the piece:
Other policy changes would subsidize employers’ expenses for temporarily continuing health insurance coverage to laid-off and retired workers and their dependents, as mandated under a 22-year-old federal law known as Cobra.
I first learned about COBRA as an editor/manager over the last decade, and learned all about it from the other side more recently, as one of the large number of Americans who have resorted to it over the past year. I guess the article’s authors, Jackie Calmes and Carl Hulse, have never had to deal with COBRA up close themselves. If they did, they’d know that employers don’t have many expenses associated with COBRA. COBRA simply allows employees who have lost their health insurance coverage (because they were laid off or they no longer qualify because, say, their hours were cut back) to keep their existing insurance for up to 18 months. All they have to do is pay the entire cost of the health insurance themselves — whatever portion they used to pay themselves, and the (typically) larger portion that their employers used to pay.
So what kind of assistance do employers need to cover COBRA costs? Maybe they have some minor administrative overhead. But surely they’re not the parties who need help in this situation.
There are two possible explanations here: Either the Obama team has suddenly lost all of its marbles, or the Times reporters mangled their description of the Obama plan — which, perhaps, might involve covering the employees’ costs for the COBRA insurance (possibly by paying into the employers’ plan, which might explain the confusion).
I checked the Times site at the end of the day, expecting to find a correction on the article, but there’s none there as I write this.