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Law Change Enables More Laid Off Workers to Obtain Insurance Subsidy
Superintendent of Insurance Mila Kofman
Exclusive to the Portland Press Herald
June 24, 2009

When you lose a job, you worry about many things. For many of us, finding a way to maintain health insurance coverage is critical. As Maine’s Superintendent of Insurance, I want to highlight recent action taken by Governor John Baldacci and the Legislature that will make financial assistance from the federal government available to many unemployed workers for use in paying for health insurance. This is good news that should bring relief and security to a number of Maine families.

With the signing of emergency legislation (LD 1180), sponsored by Representative Sharon Treat of Hallowell, many workers who lost their jobs since September 1, 2008 are now eligible to apply for a federal insurance premium subsidy being made available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

Here’s how the process works. Under a provision of the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 (COBRA), workers who lose their jobs, and thus their insurance benefits, have the right to continue their group health coverage through their former employer under certain circumstances. COBRA applies to employers with 20 or more employees.

Maine’s law called “mini-COBRA” provides similar protections for workers in businesses with fewer than 20 employees. The Maine law applies to workers temporarily laid off or those who lost employment because of an injury or disease for which they are claiming workers’ compensation benefits.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act offers a subsidy covering 65 percent of the premium for COBRA or mini-COBRA benefits to those with incomes of less than $125,000 (or $250,000 for married couples filing a joint federal income tax return) who are involuntarily terminated between September 1, 2008, and December 31, 2009. Help is also available for qualified workers with higher incomes.

Importantly, however, some Mainers who became eligible for mini-COBRA after September 1, 2008 — but before the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act subsidy was available — may have declined the coverage (or may have accepted it and later dropped it) because of the cost.

Maine’s Bureau of Insurance wants workers who lost their jobs to know that as a result of this emergency legislation passed by the Legislature and signed by Governor Baldacci, substantial assistance may be available to them. The federal subsidy of 65 percent could bring quality health insurance coverage within reach. And the new Maine law allows people a second chance to enroll in mini-COBRA.

Those who might benefit from the new law should have recently received a notice from their former insurer. More information is available on the Bureau of Insurance website at www.maine.gov/pfr/insurance/recovery.htm or by calling toll-free 1-800-300-5000.

Additional details about COBRA coverage and the federal premium assistance program for COBRA and mini-COBRA enrollees can be obtained online at www.dol.gov/ebsa/cobra.html from the U.S. Department of Labor, which is hosting a seminar in Portland on the COBRA provisions in the Recovery Act on June 29. For more information about the seminar and to register, visit www.dol.gov/ebsa/pdf/COBRAARRAME.pdf or call 1-617-565-9641.

To help consumers with any other insurance-related questions or concerns, the Bureau of Insurance will be holding Outreach Sessions throughout the State this summer. As Superintendent of Insurance, I am always eager to increase public awareness about the Bureau’s resources. My staff and I will visit Portland, Presque Isle, Bangor and Farmington. The Portland event will be held July 9th from 5:00-7:00 p.m. at the University of Southern Maine.

Additionally, consumers are always welcome to visit the Bureau’s offices at 76 Northern Avenue in Gardiner, and access to information and many services is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, on the agency’s website at www.maine.gov/insurance. My message to Maine consumers is simple and direct – the Bureau of Insurance is here to serve you. Never hesitate to contact us. We look forward to hearing from you.

The Bureau of Insurance is part of the Department of Professional and Financial Regulation, which encourages sound ethical business practices through regulation of insurers, financial institutions, creditors, investment providers, and numerous professions and occupations for the purpose of protecting the citizens of Maine. Consumers can reach the Bureau through its web site at www.maine.gov/insurance; by calling 800-300-5000 in state; or by writing to Bureau of Insurance, 34 State House Station, Augusta, ME 04333.

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Last Updated: August 22, 2012