Many laid-off workers find health insurance out of reach, report says

Most low-income people who lose their jobs are also without health insurance, a report released Friday concludes.

A study by the advocacy group Families USA says 54% of the nation's unemployed cannot afford private insurance and also are not covered under Medicaid.

The report focuses on middle-class and lower-income workers with annual incomes of about $44,100 for a family of four, or about double the poverty level.

Only one in five unemployed workers within that income level has private insurance or military coverage. Meanwhile, only one in four unemployed workers at that level got coverage through Medicaid, the government sponsored insurance program for the poor.

In December 2008, there were an estimated 5.8 million people out of work with incomes below twice the poverty level, and about 3.1 million of them did not have insurance, Families USA estimated.

The report was compiled as lawmakers consider expanding access to Medicaid and subsidizing the cost of maintaining private coverage, also called COBRA, through an economic stimulus bill.

"Most laid-off workers can't afford COBRA coverage and do not qualify for public health safety-net programs," said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA. "As a result, millions of middle-class and lower-income workers become uninsured."

In 43 states, Pollack said, Medicaid is simply unavailable for adults who don't have children — unless they are permanently disabled.

"Even if those adults are penniless, they are ineligible," the report said.

Families USA's report was based on estimates provided by the Lewin Group, which is owned by Ingenix, a subsidiary of UnitedHealth Group.

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