Stimulus package to help workers keep health care coverage

Two important health care measures that were included in President Barack Obama's economic stimulus package will begin to be implemented this week and will ensure that millions of working families impacted by the recession are able to keep their existing health care benefits or find affordable coverage.

Wednesday, Feb. 25, the federal government will release about $15 billion to help states shore up their Medcaid programs. The additional funds should boost the ability to provide for a growing number of applicants as unemployment rates rise and job-related benefits end.

According to the White House, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will oversee the distribution of the money and work with states to ensure eligibility requirements are met.

The money will help many states avoid severe cuts in Medicaid funding at a time when new applicants are desperate to receive benefits and avoid losing medical care. In addition, the funds will allow states to avoid making steep cuts in other parts of the budgets, such as public education and public safety.

“This plan will also help ensure that you don’t need to make cuts to essential services Americans rely on now more than ever,” the President told the nation’s governors in a meeting at the White House on Monday, Feb. 23.

According to HHS data, states like Louisiana, South Carolina, Minnesota and Alaska will receive about $800 million as part of this package. The governors of these states have been the sharpest critics of the president's recovery program. Their criticism stems mainly from their maneuvers for frontrunner status for the GOP presidential nomination for 2012 rather than out of serious objections.

These potential candidates, which include Govs. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Sarah Palin, appear to have prioritized personal ambitions over people's needs. Unfortunately, working families in their states may suffer as a result of their political ambitions.

According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, for example, each day in the month of December, 430 people in Louisiana lost their jobs. Statewide, the number of unemployed people stood at 122,000.

A second provision in the economic stimulus package will provide a subsidy to reduce COBRA payments by 65 percent. COBRA is a federal program administered by the Department of Labor to help laid-off workers keep their employment benefits in the short term as they look for new work.