Several surveys and studies released in 2010 have concluded that the COBRA participation—or “take-up” rate---increased when subsidized coverage was made available for those who lost their jobs between September 2008 and May 2010. However, the rate of improvement reported has varied widely. EBRI, using Census Bureau data, has now issued a study concluding that take up rates increased less than was expected when Congress enacted the subsidy as part of the 2009 stimulus law (EBRI Notes, October 2010, ebri.org).
Lower than expected. When the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 was passed, the Congressional Budget Office anticipated that $14 billion in COBRA subsidies would be provided in 2009. This expenditure was expected to provide 7 million people with subsidized coverage. Instead, EBRI says that census data shows that the number of nonworking adults with coverage through a former employer increased from 5 million in December 2008 to 5.7 million in August 2009. (One caveat: full 2009 results for this census data won't be released until January 2011, so these numbers could change.)
Bad sign for heath reform? So, what are the implications of the lower-than-expected take-up rate? EBRI speculates that it may mean that even with a 65% subsidy, COBRA premiums are not affordable for many families. A need for COBRA usually goes hand in hand with a loss of income, after all.
EBRI also sees a connection between lower COBRA take up rates and the probability for success of the subsidies under the ACA, scheduled to become available in 2014. As with the COBRA subsidies, the ACA subsidies may not have as large an affect as predicted when health reform was passed. This in turn means that the rate of uninsured will not drop as much as predicted.
Want to learn more about COBRA benefits? Go here.