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

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While acting New York State Insurance Commissioner KermittBrooks has hailed the passage of health insurance bills in thestate, one advocacy association called them "exactly the wrongapproach."

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New York Governor David A. Paterson recently signed health carebills into law that include measures adding 18 months of COBRAcoverage for workers who lose their jobs and allowing families tocover dependents through age 29.

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In a statement, Mr. Brooks said of the bills, "The governor'slegislative package includes substantial reforms that will have areal impact on New Yorkers, allowing those who currently cannotafford health insurance to obtain coverage. In addition, theseproposals help make insurance work better for consumers, providers,health plans and employers."

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

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Regarding the COBRA bill, he said the legislation continues tolink individual insurance to the prior employer, leaving theindividual at the whim of what the employer covers. If the employerswitches insurance companies, or limits the plan, the individual issubject to those changes, Mr. Wieski said.

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"What I'm afraid of is while the legislation is well-meaning…I'mnot sure it does the consumer any good to continue on a plan theemployer chooses when they can go out in the individual market" andfind options that may offer better coverage for a cheaper price, hesaid.

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

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Calling it the "slacker mandate," Mr. Wieski said keeping theseindividuals on their parents' policies simply delays theinevitable.

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

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

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COBRA, the federal Consolidated Omnibus Budget ReconciliationAct, permits workers who lose their jobs to continue purchasinggroup health insurance provided by their former employers' grouphealth plans for a period of time, allowing the individuals tomaintain coverage at a lower cost than if they bought itindependently.

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Additional COBRA coverage "will allow New Yorkers who lose theirjobs to extend their health insurance coverage for a longer periodof time, which is particularly important in the current economywith its record high level of unemployment," Gov. Paterson said ina statement.

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Federal COBRA generally applies to employers with 20 or moreemployees, while the state's "mini-COBRA" law requires that smalleremployers–those who have fewer than 20 employees–offer the samecontinuation coverage.

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

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

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The second law signed by the governor would allow parents toinsure unmarried children through age 29, regardless of financialdependence. Gov. Paterson's statement noted that young adults oftenbecome ineligible under their parents' policies at age 19 or upongraduating high school or college. These individuals, the statementcontinued, often get entry-level jobs that do not provideemployer-based health coverage.

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

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The governor's statement said, "Under the new law, premiums willbe paid for by families, not employers, and would cost less becausecoverage is under group policies rather than individual policies.The law also requires insurers to offer employers an option topurchase coverage that includes young adults as dependents infamily policies through age 29."

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A third managed care law signed by the governor "will implementreforms that help consumers receive the care they need and cut someof the red tape that results in inappropriately delayed or deniedclaims," according to his statement.

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