About Fathers

Perspectives on fathers and their children.

Affordable health care--harder than it looks

Health care: Availability isn't the problem; affordability is.

We're eight days from the beginning of the Obama administration and the promise of affordable health insurance for everyone. But a new report from the nonprofit consumer group Families USA highlights how difficult it will be to keep that promise.

In a previous half-hearted reform attempt more than 20 years ago, Congress passed a law allowing employees to stay on their employers' health plans for up to 18 months after leaving the job, or being laid off. That was supposed to give the unemployed time to find a new job, and, with it, a new health insurance plan. The provision is known as COBRA, after the name of the bill (the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act).

As you might expect of a Reagan-era health reform, the proposal said nothing about the cost of such plans.

In its new report, Families USA says the COBRA is prohibitively expensive for most of the unemployed.

The report found that COBRA costs, on average $1,069 per month for family coverage. Unemployment benefits average $1,278 per month. COBRA would eat up 84 percent of the unemployment benefits.

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Those are averages. In nine states, the cost of COBRA is more than the average unemployment benefit.

We have no problem with availability of health insurance. With minor exceptions, it's available to anyone who is laid off or fired.

Very few of them can afford it, but, hey--that's not the fault of government, right?

That's the attitude--and the reality--that Obama has to change. Join me in wishing him well.

Journalist Paul Raeburn is the author of Do Fathers Matter? to be published by Scientific America/FSG in June, 2014. He is also the author of the Fathers and Families blog.

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