Commentary: An avoidable health care crisis

It was perversely appropriate that the Senate began debate on its health care reform bill Monday. As the senators started talking, thousands of Americans were scrambling to find a way to pay for their health insurance after losing the federal subsidies that made that coverage affordable.

As reported in Sunday's Bee, the subsidies are targeted at people who have been laid off from their jobs during the recession but want to keep the coverage they received at work, an option mandated by the federal COBRA law. February's federal stimulus bill authorized the payment of subsidies equal to two-thirds of the health care premiums these jobless folks suddenly face. Since a typical premium for a family of four runs about $1,200 a month, that is a big help. But families or individuals can tap it for only nine months. And funding ran out Monday for those who started receiving the funds immediately after the program began.

Nobody in Washington knows how many people this represents. But with the unemployed up by 6 million in the period the program covers, the need is huge. Neither the House nor Senate health care reform plans have COBRA subsidies that address that need. And even if reform passes, the premium aid it will offer to low- and middle-income families won't kick in until 2013.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Sacramento Bee.