The federal safety-net health insurance program created to provide coverage for pink-slipped workers has become too expensive for most Americans, according to a study released Friday.

COBRA, which stands for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, took effect in 1986 and allows workers to keep their former employer's health insurance for up to 18 months at the price their employer pays.

"COBRA health coverage is great in theory and lousy in reality," said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, a nonprofit advocacy group, which released the report. "For the vast majority of workers who are laid off, they and their families are likely to join the ranks of the uninsured."

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