George Garcia has been out of work for four months, but he's missing more than a paycheck.
"As soon as I lost my job, I haven't had health care," he told NBC Bay Area News, while trying to get through to the state's unemployment hotline. Garcia is one of the many Californians whose medical coverage disappeared with his job.
California's unemployment rate is 10.5% with nearly two million people out of work. "With the spike in unemployment, we're expecting to see a spike in uninsurance" noted Anthony Wright, Executive Director of Health Access California. He added, "Potentially up to eight hundred thousand Californians are losing their job-based coverage."
But today Capitol lawmakers gave early approval to a new bill that would allow people laid off from small businesses (2-19 people), to receive a 65% subsidy for healthcare coverage under COBRA, the federal program that allows laid off workers to continue their employer's group health benefits. The discount comes courtesy of the federal stimulus package signed by President Obama.
In Sacramento, the bipartisan bill offers victims of small business layoffs the same subsidy now available to unemployed workers from large companies. A Democrat and a Republican are the co-authors of AB23, which is sponsored by Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner.
At a Capitol news conference today, Assemblyman Dave Jones (D) Sacramento said, "It will help them purchase and continue coverage for themselves and their families that might otherwise be unaffordable."
The goal is to maintain healthcare coverage for people who need it the most, according to Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher (R) San Diego, "in keeping their existing doctor, their existing prescriptions, their existing healthcare plans that they had and still need."
The bill also extends COBRA coverage to people who lost their jobs between September 1, 2008 and February 16, 2009.
That's good news for tens of thousands of Californians, whether their previous employer was big or small.
George Garcia says, "Anthing that would help with healhcare is good right? I mean you want to help people out."
And helping out is what lawmakers from both parties now appear ready to do. The initial tally in today's Health Committee was 14 - 0 in support of the bill, which now heads to the Assembly's Appropriations Committee for an April hearing.