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Panic time as subsidy nears end

By David Gulliver
10/28/2009 © Health News Florida

Hearing a phrase like “COBRA subsidy termination” makes your eyes glaze over -- until your family’s health rides on it.

My wife Darla and I have twin boys, who were 3 years old when I was laid off from the Sarasota Herald-Tribune in March.  Both have had a series of illnesses, and one has needed four surgeries to date.

In that situation, I was thrilled to have any health coverage. Then I saw the cost: $1,266.75 a month, when we had zero income. There was no way we could pay that price. And because of a foul-up in my severance paperwork, I was initially denied the subsidy that would make it affordable.
So for weeks, we had no coverage at all while I tried to solve the problems. I started looking at health plans, and anything with family coverage is just unaffordable.

We put off our annual physicals and canceled our dental checkups. When the boys got sick, we rode it out instead of going to the pediatrician -- after all, kids get colds, right?  Then the colds turned into deep, hacking coughs all night long, and we cursed our decision.

The kids got better, of course. We solved the insurance hangup, and the COBRA subsidy cut my payment to $443.36 -- saving us some $800 a month. That’s a mortgage payment. 

It allowed us to take the kids to the doctor twice when they spiked 103-degree fevers last month and we feared swine flu (they're okay, fortunately). It allowed me to get a nuclear medicine stress test when my doctor spotted a potential problem on an EKG (it turned out to be nothing).

Now I’m working as a free-lance writer, editor and data analyst while I’m trying to launch a non-profit online news company and looking for full-time jobs. Darla, a registered dietitian, found work, but it is a contract job with no benefits.

And now Congress may let the subsidy run out. Without it, as of Dec. 31, I won't be able to afford my health insurance.  And that's scary when you have two little kids.

--David Gulliver is founding editor of Sarasota Health News, a non-profit independent news service.