With the unemployment numbers for Las Vegas running in double digits, a lot of folks who still have jobs are left wondering, When’s the axe going to fall for me? It’s like being on a literal battlefield: When the guy to the left of you goes down with a bullet to the chest, then the guy to your right, you don’t start jumping up and telling yourself what a lucky bastard you are. More likely, you’re sweating and wondering if the crosshairs are now locked on your head.
If you’re keeping that head down and grimly plodding forward in any number of local businesses whose revenues have been hammered in the Great Recession, and you’re pretty sure there’s only one thing that the boss and his bean-counters are talking about in those closed-door meetings, then do yourself a favor. Go right up to your boss and tell him, Look, if you’re going to can my ass, could you do it before March 1?
Why that date? Because if you were getting your health insurance from your job, and figuring that you could at least go on paying for it yourself after you get the boot, under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (that’s the COBRA you’ve heard your unemployed friends talking about), then there’s a happy little surprise in store for you. For 15 months, the Federal government will pick up 65 percent of whatever you’d otherwise pay for that insurance. So instead of forking out, say, $700 from your meager unemployment benefits, you’d only be paying 35 percent of that, or $245.
Or at least it is, until the end of this month. Fired on February 28? The Feds pick up that 65 percent of your COBRA-ized health insurance premium. Fired on March 1? Too bad, pal; you get to pay the whole thing yourself. Those are the rules of the COBRA Premium Reduction Provisions, part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that the president signed a year ago. The “termination event” has to occur by February 28, 2010, for the terminated party—you, maybe—to qualify for the COBRA reduction. When Congress passed the law, they must have figured that the national economy would have returned to its hunky-dory 2007 levels by this March. If your personal economy hasn’t, well, that’s just too bad.
So if you feel the ax approaching, and you’re convinced that it’s just a matter of dwindling time before it hits your neck, go ahead and encourage your boss to show you the door sooner rather than later. And don’t think of it as a moral issue. The Obama administration has already taken care of its much more urgent financial concerns, such as making sure that all those Wall Street banker types got their multi-million-dollar year-end bonuses. You’re entitled to at least a little discount on being able to pay for your kids’ medicine.
And of course, if you believe that your increasingly feckless congresspeople should be working for you, just because you pay their salaries, feel free to hector Harry Reid, et al., about Senate bill 2730, the COBRA Subsidy Extension and Enhancement Act of 2009, which would extend the COBRA premium reduction to individuals losing their jobs through June. Stuck in committee right now, it would be at least one thing the Democrats might be able to pull out before they drop the health-care reform issue entirely.