In 2021, employers’ healthcare plans covered 49% of Americans. Employer-sponsored coverage gives Americans access to a vast number of healthcare providers within that network and typically provides a high quality of care. However, when an enrolled employee is terminated or laid off, the employee also loses their healthcare benefits.
Jackson, Mississippi, resident Ida Patterson noticed a lump in her breast two years ago. She admittedly wrote it off as nothing, but her father had a stroke a month later. It provoked her to see a doctor. His sudden change in health made Ida cautious about her health. She wanted to take control and know what was happening to her.
Ida first decided to see her primary care physician about the lump in her breast. Her primary care physician described the lump as scary and immediately referred her out to get a mammogram and then a biopsy. It only took a couple of weeks to go through all the tests. Doctors diagnosed Ida with Stage 3 Metastatic Breast Cancer.
Ida continued going to the oncologist provided by her healthcare plan and did everything necessary to try to improve her condition. Through it all, she continued to work. She worked from home when allowed, often sick from her chemo treatments.
Unfortunately, Ida’s employer released her from her duties last January, but the letter stated it was not because of her performance. As she continued her fight with cancer, Ida had to decide what to do next regarding health insurance. She desperately needed to continue her treatments. Going without it would be a death sentence.
Ida’s doctors and specialists did not accept Marketplace insurance, and she was also concerned that trying to replace them through Marketplace doctors would result in a lower quality of care for her. She wanted to avoid that at all costs. Ida decided to have her employer-sponsored health plan continued through the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA).
COBRA offers former employees and their families the right to choose to continue group health benefits provided by their group health plan for limited periods under certain circumstances. Reasons for eligible coverage can include voluntary or involuntary job loss, reduced hours worked, transition between jobs, death, divorce, and other life events. The range was detrimental if she would make it through the lumpectomy. However, it came at a steep cost of $543 a month out of pocket.
Ida feels her cancer diagnosis and the subsequent cost to the employer-sponsored health plan was why her job let her go. It’s wrong for companies to let employees go because of health situations beyond their control. They should be held accountable for disrupting people’s coverage, especially when it is not a preexisting condition or can be the difference between life or death.