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Employers face Saturday deadline to notify ex-workers of health subsidy

Employers have until Saturday to notify workers they have recently laid off a new federal subsidy for health insurance. In creating the subsidy through the federal stimulus package, Congress estimated 7 million people would take advantage of the health insurance assistance. But first, companies need to spread the word. Federal law known as COBRA allows most employees to stay on their former employer's health plan for a period of time after leaving. But the ex-employee has to pay the full premium, which can average over a thousand dollars a month. The new federal stimulus package will pay 65 percent of that premium for people who have been involuntarily laid off since September 1st of last year. Amy Turner of the Department of Labor says the subsidy offers a second chance to people who may have spent the last several months without health coverage. "If they did not elect cobra - or if they elected cobra but let's say they discontinued it because it was expensive and they couldn't keep making the premiums," says Turner. "Those individuals are going to get a second election opportunity. And their health plans are required to send them a notice by April 18th." However, the second chance to sign up only applies to people who worked for companies with more than 20 employees. Smaller companies are subject to state law. North Carolina lawmakers are working on a bill right now that would give those workers another shot at the COBRA stimulus. No such effort is underway in South Carolina. Amy Turner says people who have not received notice of the COBRA subsidy by Saturday should contact their former employer's health plan. If that doesn't work, call the Department of Labor at 1-866-444-3272.