Washington, DC— Senators Bernard Sanders, Sherrod Brown and Sheldon Whitehouse joined Ron Pollack of Families USA at a press conference this morning to discuss how millions of Americans are at-risk to lose health insurance because Republicans blocked short-term extension of unemployment health insurance benefits known as COBRA. Senate Democrats tried several times in the last week to pass a short-term extension of these unemployment benefits and Republicans objected ten times. With unemployment rampant in every single state, millions of Americans depend on this assistance now more than ever for their health insurance. Senate Democrats are calling on Republicans to work with them on a long-term extension of unemployment benefits which includes COBRA health insurance benefits.
“The American people are increasingly concerned about the dysfunctionality of the Senate,” said Senator Sanders. “What I want to know is where were the same people who voted for two wars but failed to pay for it, who voted for a prescription drug program without paying for it, who voted for tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans without paying for it, and who voted to bail out Wall Street without paying for it. The hypocrisy is mind blowing.”
Senator Brown said: “Unemployed workers should be able to focus on finding work, instead of worrying about how to afford medical care for their families. One man should not prevent hundreds of thousands of Americans from being able to afford temporary health coverage through the COBRA program. One man should not prevent 200,000 Ohioans from receiving the unemployment insurance they have earned. Republican efforts to gut these programs are unconscionable.”
“Why are people being kicked out of these essential programs before the storm has passed? The answer is that we have failed to do what is right for the American public, in part because one Republican has chosen this time of great despair for millions of Americans to make a political point by hurting hardworking Americans who are struggling to get by,” said Senator Whitehouse. “Many Rhode Islanders, through no fault of their own, struggle to find work. For many of them, Unemployment Insurance and COBRA benefits are the lifeline of support for their family. I hope my colleagues will put politics aside, do what is right, and to help the millions of Americans who are so badly in need of a little help during this continued downturn.”
Ron Pollack said: “With assistance, unemployed families pay, on average, $389 per month for COBRA premiums. Without assistance, they would have to pay $1,111 per month, which is out of reach for most families who have lost their jobs. Many of these families have no options for health coverage other than COBRA until health reform passes and is fully implemented. I urge Senators to take swift action to extend the COBRA subsidy to workers who are laid off this year. The fact that the economy is recovering does not diminish the need for the subsidy. Although the number of people who are losing jobs is on the decline, in January, three million more Americans became unemployed. Further, the number of people who remain unemployed for long periods of time is much greater than at any other time in the last 10 years.”