Congress agreed last month to extend the federal subsidy for COBRA benefits for workers who lose their jobs, leaving companies with the task of notifying eligible former employees. The December legislation makes assistance on health insurance premiums available to workers who are laid off through Feb. 28, versus the former cutoff of Dec. 31, 2009. It also gives eligible workers 15 months of assistance, up from the nine months provided in last February's stimulus legislation.
The COBRA subsidy has increased the number of laid-off workers who continue to get health insurance from their former employers. According to a Hewitt survey of 200 big companies, 39% of workers sign up for COBRA now that the subsidy is available, up from 19% before the subsidy.