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Get Covered America buttons are seen during a training session in Chicago, Illinois September 7, 2013 before volunteers canvas a Chicago neighborhood to talk with residents about the Affordable Care Act - also known as Obamacare. Picture taken September 7
As many as 3.5 million people over the last few years have gotten their health insurance through COBRA, the program that allows people to stay on their or their spouses employer's policy after loss of a job, or the death of the spouse. It's helped millions of people, but not every laid-off worker or widow because it's expensive. Enrollees have to pay the full cost of premiums—both their and their employer's contributions. One 2009 study found that less than 10 percent of newly unemployed people could actually afford it. It also ends—18 months after a lost job and 36 months after divorce or widowhood.

Enter Obamacare, and a brand-new freedom for COBRA enrollees. Jonathon Cohn talked with one, Donielle Scherff, a 37 year old with lupus, who just started her own business, is better able to manage her disease, and is paying less for insurance every month. A lot less.

The obvious solution was to work on her own, as an independent contractor: “Being able to set my own schedule, to work freelance, makes me not just happy but healthy,” she says. But until Obamacare came along, the only way for her to get reasonably priced coverage was through COBRA. Even then, it was expensive—about $550 a month—and she'd have to shop for new coverage after 18 months. (Scherff provided me with documentation to verify these details, as well as additional sources to corroborate the broad contours of her story.)

Now, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, she’s found insurance through the online marketplace for Virginia. After waiting through the initial technological problems, she shopped and settled on a gold plan, which means it’s among the more generous options available. For this plan, from Kaiser Permanente, she pays $344 a month. If you do the math, you'll see that's roughly $200 less than the monthly COBRA premiums.

Cohn is very clear that there are trade-offs for Scherff, which she perfectly understands as well, but is happy with nonetheless. It's possible that she'll end up paying more out-of-pocket with Kaiser if her illness progresses to the point that she needs a lot of care, even more than she's saving in lower premiums. But her prescription costs are much lower and she's saving money now, so she finds that possibility acceptable. She's also comforted in knowing that, if she does get sicker, she now has comprehensive insurance and it's much more secure under Obamacare than before.
"If my disease gets worse, it could be the difference between being disabled and being able to work," she says. "It opens up lots of possibilities to be productive and contributing to society."
That's freedom. She's striking out on her own, starting her own business—which used to be the Republican version of the American dream, before Obamacare made it possible.

Originally posted to Joan McCarter on Fri May 30, 2014 at 08:13 AM PDT.

Also republished by Obamacare Saves Lives, Virginia Kos, and Daily Kos.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (49+ / 0-)

    "The NSA’s capability at any time could be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left, such is the capability to monitor everything. [...] There would be no place to hide."--Frank Church

    by Joan McCarter on Fri May 30, 2014 at 08:13:04 AM PDT

  •  My Friend Mike Was Paying For Cobra (21+ / 0-)

    and it was about to run out.  Thanks to Obamacare he now has insurance in Miss. mind you, that is way lower than what he was paying before.  There are hundreds or thousands of stories out there that are not being told.

    "Don't Let Them Catch You With Your Eyes Closed"

    by rssrai on Fri May 30, 2014 at 08:38:28 AM PDT

    •  Freedom from Fear apparently means nothing to (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Ann B FLAW

      Ignorant Republicans...

      The fear of having no health insurance has kept millions in dead-end jobs, or working full time when they could otherwise afford to work part time or retire.

      This doesn't matter to Republicans.

      Or maybe it does, because then the rich employer might have to pay more to keep folks in dead-end jobs, or might lose a valuable employee who can now afford to retire, unless the job including the salary, is made more attractive.

      So you see why the US Chamber of Commerce and the Wall Street Journal HATE the ACA. IT EMPOWERS WE THE PEOPLE.

  •  One of the things about COBRA (19+ / 0-)

    was that you were utterly locked in to the policy that you had. You couldn't change to a different plan from the same insurer nor to a new insurer. You had to pay the full cost of the policy plus an administrative fee. If the situation was that you were going from a full time job where the employer paid part or all of the premium to not having a job, for most people this was hundreds of dollars of additional monthly expense per insured person, at a time when money was much tighter.

    In addition, the right to COBRA was through the continued existence of the employer. If your employer dissolved, there was no plan to stay with.

    Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

    by elfling on Fri May 30, 2014 at 08:39:00 AM PDT

  •  great example of how people can have less panic (17+ / 0-)

    and despair when they are either laid off or fired and also have to face losing their health insurance.  In the past, it was a double whammy that hit you when your employer cut the cord.

    This is exactly what the GOP doesn't want people to feel--self-empowerment and freedom. Hence their hysterical attempts to end it before we could start to see some of the ACA's benefits.

    There is no going back now--only forward to (hopefully) medicare for all one day.

    If the plutocrats begin the program, we will end it. -- Eugene Debs.

    by livjack on Fri May 30, 2014 at 08:57:54 AM PDT

  •  And COBRA cost employers, too: they contribute (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Rogneid, scott jones, sulthernao

    something, so it's a win win win.  

    Schedule permitting, PROOF WILL BE PROVIDED ON HOW I AM BEING "CONSTANTLY CALLED OUT" AND "UNIVERSALLY RECOGNIZED" FOR BEING BAD. Moreover, the dossier on my activities during the Bush administration will have an appendix concluding that I am Wrong.

    by Inland on Fri May 30, 2014 at 09:14:30 AM PDT

  •  My COBRA ran out in Dec. 2013 (8+ / 0-)

    So getting my O-care in January 2014 was a life-saver. Plus, let's not forget that back in the darkest days of the Bush Recession in 2009, the President provided great assistance to those of us on COBRA then.

    A pretty damned good President, if you ask me!

  •  Why would her costs be higher (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Rogneid

    with a Gold plan than with Cobra?   Do Cobra plans not have deductibles or out of picket costs?

    •  Her specific COBRA plan (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      KenBee

      might have had a lower out-of-pocket limit than her Gold plan. But from my reading of the story, she's only likely to pay more if she gets really sick and has to have a lot of treatment.

      "The NSA’s capability at any time could be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left, such is the capability to monitor everything. [...] There would be no place to hide."--Frank Church

      by Joan McCarter on Fri May 30, 2014 at 03:03:28 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  COBRA isn't any one plan (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      scott jones, Esjaydee

      It's a legal right to continuation of the employer plan you had before. Thus, it could be anywhere from gold plated and expensive, to junk, and the cost can be all over the map.

      Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

      by elfling on Fri May 30, 2014 at 05:14:26 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  My COBRA policy ends 5/31/14 (8+ / 0-)

    My COBRA cost per month: $414 and change, with no dental coverage. My new policy: $113 and $18 for dental per month, for practically the same policy.

    Hell, yeah I'm happy! That means this fall I'm going for my GIS certificate!

    “Judge: Are you trying to show contempt for this court? Mae West: I was doin' my best to hide it.” ― Mae West

    by Rogneid on Fri May 30, 2014 at 02:53:39 PM PDT

    •  Wow (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      hbk

      Congratulations! Dental is huge (says the person who had a filling done on Wednesday).

      "The NSA’s capability at any time could be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left, such is the capability to monitor everything. [...] There would be no place to hide."--Frank Church

      by Joan McCarter on Fri May 30, 2014 at 03:04:09 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I'm on my state's Medicaid now, (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        scott jones, hbk, Joan McCarter, KenBee

        thanks to the ACA.  But two years ago, in an effort to save money, dental care was stripped from adult benefits in Illinois.
        Just heard a news item yesterday that the state hasn't saved any money by doing this, as untended dental problems can result in hospitalization for very serious illnesses.  So the general assembly is working to restore the benefit.

        Hey GOP! You'll get my Obamacare when you pry it from my cold, dead hands. And thanks to Obamacare, that just may be awhile.

        by jazzmaniac on Fri May 30, 2014 at 04:59:50 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  I don't understand how people get dental (0+ / 0-)

      I got a silver plan in WI and I even checked the platinum plans and not one included dental.  Then I heard the law included pediatric dental only.  My son has 4 sideways wisdom teeth and he needs dental badly.  

      OT but I'm pretty upset our nobody in our network can see either of us until Nov for a physical.  My hypertension has been untreated for 6 years and I am having pains.  My depression and anxiety is over the top after being cut off from unemployment the first of the year and a death in the family.  While trying to just get a checkup for the hbp, I was told to go to the ER since I admitted it was a hard phone call to make and I was feeling pretty suicidal.  They also told me they would not see me because I owed $100 from 2004 but wouldn't let me talk to anyone about it.

      •  New patient appointments are always (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        QuelleC, KenBee

        hard to come by where I live and have been for over a decade. Often it helps to call back frequently hoping for a cancellation. Eventually, they'll find a slot for you, IME.

        Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

        by elfling on Fri May 30, 2014 at 05:16:28 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  This helps me greatly (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    sulthernao

    Am retiring at age 62 on Aug. 1. Plan to purchase Kaiser coverage through state exchange, as employer COBRA will be costlier plus locks me into a very narrow provider network. Hooray for the ACA.

  •  Post-COBRA there was HIPAA guaranteed-issue (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Susipsych

    I am self-employed and was insured through COBRA. But, as you say it only ran 18 months. Being in my late 50's there was no way I would be able to get an 'underwritten' plan even though my health is excellent, but the most trivial conditions count as disqualifying pre-existing conditions.

    The alternative was HIPAA guaranteed-issue. If you had exhausted COBRA coverage you were eligible for a guaranteed-issue policy with no declarations required about your medical history. But it was expensive. Last year it was about $980 a month. Obamacare is not hugely cheaper. I'm now paying $907.

    "The smartest man in the room is not always right." -Richard Holbrooke

    by Demi Moaned on Fri May 30, 2014 at 03:22:03 PM PDT

  •  A nasty COBRA Gotcha!, if you happened to (0+ / 0-)

    become eligible for COBRA at, after, or near your eligibility for Medicare, is that despite that fact that you are in the same group plan and paying the full plan premium, COBRA does not count as an employer-based group health plan for purposes of avoiding the Medicare Part B late enrollment penalty.

    That penalty is a 10% increase in your premium -- for the rest of your life --for each full 12-month period that you could have had Part B, but didn't sign up for it.

    We must drive the special interests out of politics.… There can be no effective control of corporations while their political activity remains. To put an end to it will neither be a short not an easy task, but it can be done. -- Teddy Roosevelt

    by NoMoJoe on Fri May 30, 2014 at 03:24:46 PM PDT

  •  Exception to the rule for us (0+ / 0-)

    No doubt the ACA is making health insurance more affordable for a large group of people. However, for my spouse and myself in TN, a comparable exchange plan to replace our COBRA would have been $300/mo MORE than we  are already paying (WITH THE SUBSIDY). This is partly because we had a really good, large group-based employer policy. But after many months of anticipation and many, many foiled sign-up attempts, the lousy choices dampened our enthusiasm. I am seriously hoping my unemployed spouse gets a job with good insurance, as I will still be self-employed by the time our COBRA times out.

    •  Not quite THAT bad (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Susipsych

      But an equivalent market plan for me would be about $100 more a month for me than what I pay for COBRA. So I am staying with COBRA until it runs out in December and then will need a market plan for just 6 months until I am old enough for Medicare.  Medicare plus a reasonable add-on plan will be much less expensive.

      But at least ACA means I can get insurance at all, at any price, due to the preexisting condition rule.

      •  absolutely (0+ / 0-)

        We have the exceptionally good fortune that we have no preexisting conditions that would have priced us out of the earlier market. And we recognize that our particular situation says nothing about the larger benefits of the law.

  •  We switched from my COBRA to ObamACAre and (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    scott jones, QuelleC, Esjaydee, KenBee

    saved $800 a month for about the same benefits. That really helps when you're unemployed.

  •  The A.C.A. was the first step and hopefully will (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ann B FLAW

    bring this country to a rational and humane health care system for all.  While there have been, and continue to do so glitches with the first steps, hopefully we have embarked as a nation down the path of the beginning of the end of "health care by spreadsheet".

    I welcome the day when we fully join the other modern industrial countries with an American health care system for all citizens of this country, and that it will be the example of the best of what others need to strive for as they modify theirs over time.

    It is the civilized way to live.  

    We can do better.

    “My soul is from elsewhere, I'm sure of that, and I intend to end up there." - Rumi

    by LamontCranston on Sat May 31, 2014 at 07:09:16 AM PDT

  •  Thanks to Obamacare, I AM RETIRED!!! (0+ / 0-)

    I have been interested in retiring for two years and have been financially able to do so except for having no private access to health insurance.  It was getting harder and harder to find a job with benefits so I could continue to get health insurance.

    With my private BC/BS insurance obtained via the ACA, I got to retire 1/1/14!  Thank you, Obama!  Thank you, Democrats who passed the ACA!  Am I allowed to say FUCK YOU to all the Republicans who voted to repeal the ACA over 50 times and who voted to restrict my reproductive rights?

    #VOTE2014
    #VOTE2016

  •  cobra plan (0+ / 0-)

    I had cobra for about 6 months cost about 1100 and was a good plan.Had to go disability after diagnosis of cirossis of liver
    worked about 2 years after but got to be too much.
    I am now on private disability thru my benifit package but cobra cost was eating into disbility payments
    thank you dems for not caving to repub pressure saving 800 bucks a month on aca plan and on transplant list
    aca will probably save my life

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