NU Online News Service, July 31, 3:45 p.m. EDT

While acting New York State Insurance Commissioner Kermitt Brooks has hailed the passage of health insurance bills in the state, one advocacy association called them “exactly the wrong approach.”

New York Governor David A. Paterson recently signed health care bills into law that include measures adding 18 months of COBRA coverage for workers who lose their jobs and allowing families to cover dependents through age 29.

In a statement, Mr. Brooks said of the bills, “The governor’s legislative package includes substantial reforms that will have a real impact on New Yorkers, allowing those who currently cannot afford health insurance to obtain coverage. In addition, these proposals help make insurance work better for consumers, providers, health plans and employers.”

But J.P Wieski, director of state affairs for the Council of Affordable Health Insurance (CAHI), said the bills take the wrong approach.

Regarding the COBRA bill, he said the legislation continues to link individual insurance to the prior employer, leaving the individual at the whim of what the employer covers. If the employer switches insurance companies, or limits the plan, the individual is subject to those changes, Mr. Wieski said.

“What I’m afraid of is while the legislation is well-meaning…I’m not sure it does the consumer any good to continue on a plan the employer chooses when they can go out in the individual market” and find options that may offer better coverage for a cheaper price, he said.

Regarding parents covering dependents up to age 29, Mr. Wieski said he understands the goal of getting this demographic into the marketplace, but said the idea is “ridiculous on its face.”

Calling it the “slacker mandate,” Mr. Wieski said keeping these individuals on their parents’ policies simply delays the inevitable.

With the chance of developing a medical condition rising as the individual gets older, the odds increase that a person may develop a condition at the 29-year cutoff and then have to enter the marketplace.

These people are better off entering the marketplace earlier, Mr. Wieski said, and he noted some companies have developed programs at attractive rates designed to target this age group.

COBRA, the federal Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, permits workers who lose their jobs to continue purchasing group health insurance provided by their former employers’ group health plans for a period of time, allowing the individuals to maintain coverage at a lower cost than if they bought it independently.

Additional COBRA coverage “will allow New Yorkers who lose their jobs to extend their health insurance coverage for a longer period of time, which is particularly important in the current economy with its record high level of unemployment,” Gov. Paterson said in a statement.

Federal COBRA generally applies to employers with 20 or more employees, while the state’s “mini-COBRA” law requires that smaller employers–those who have fewer than 20 employees–offer the same continuation coverage.

The new law would extend COBRA eligibility from 18 to 36 months, Gov. Paterson said.

Ron Klug, spokesman for the New York State Insurance Department, said the law applies to both larger employers with 20 or more employees and smaller employers with under 20 employees.

The second law signed by the governor would allow parents to insure unmarried children through age 29, regardless of financial dependence. Gov. Paterson’s statement noted that young adults often become ineligible under their parents’ policies at age 19 or upon graduating high school or college. These individuals, the statement continued, often get entry-level jobs that do not provide employer-based health coverage.

Young adults ages 19-29 represent 31 percent of uninsured New Yorkers, the statement said.

The governor’s statement said, “Under the new law, premiums will be paid for by families, not employers, and would cost less because coverage is under group policies rather than individual policies. The law also requires insurers to offer employers an option to purchase coverage that includes young adults as dependents in family policies through age 29.”

A third managed care law signed by the governor “will implement reforms that help consumers receive the care they need and cut some of the red tape that results in inappropriately delayed or denied claims,” according to his statement.