Senate Clears Way For COBRA Vote

Laid-off workers are waiting to hear if a subsidy for health insurance will continue to be available as part of a jobless benefits package working its way through the Senate. 

Kaiser Health News: The Senate stopped a filibuster Monday as "[f]our Republicans voted with 56 Democrats Monday to take up the bill later this week. … Under the federal COBRA law, workers can stay on their former employers' health insurance plans for 18 months after losing a job, but they must pay the full amount of their premium. However, as part of efforts to avert some of the effects of the recession, and as part of the stimulus package, Congress voted to subsidize 65 percent of those costs for laid-off workers" (Villegas, 4/12).

The Associated Press: The vote to end debate was contentious. "Republicans blocked the temporary measure last month, saying it should have correlating spending cuts so as to not increase the deficit." Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., is "leading the charge," noting the bill would add $9 billion to the U.S. debt.

"In practice, the expiration of the programs means that the newly jobless aren't eligible to sign up for health insurance subsidies but that people currently covered under the so-called COBRA law retain the benefit. People living in flood plains can't sign up for flood insurance, while the Medicare program has delayed payments to doctors rather than impose a 21 percent cut" (4/13).

Politico: Moderate Republicans voting with the Democrats were Sens. Scott Brown, of Massachusetts; Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine; and George Voinovich of Ohio. "But Collins warned that Democrats can't keep passing temporary extensions of jobless benefits – and she might not vote for final passage of the bill even though she helped break the filibuster Monday evening." In addition, Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said "the bill will retroactively cover recipients of unemployment insurance and COBRA health insurance for those whose benefits expired over the past two weeks" (Shiner, 4/12).

The Hill: "Democrats Tom Harkin of Iowa, Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia and Robert Menendez of New Jersey were absent, putting Democrats in a difficult spot to reach the necessary 60-vote threshold. … The GOP is positioning itself to avoid a repeat of its public-relations defeat a month ago, when Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) took a similar stance against extending unemployment benefits. In the face of growing media coverage, Republicans splintered and Bunning backed down" (Rushing, 4/12).

The Washington Post: "The question of whether or how to pay for additional unemployment benefits is likely to resurface soon. The House and Senate have passed large jobs bills that include longer-term extensions of jobless benefits. The bills are substantially different and will require extensive bicameral negotiations to reconcile, and Republicans and some conservative Democrats in both chambers are likely to object if the measures aren't fully offset" (Pershing, 4/13).

Roll Call: "The short-term benefits extension could receive final approval as soon as Wednesday. ... the jobless benefits expired on April 5; under the current proposal, the benefits would continue until May 5" (Brady, 4/12). 

Modern Healthcare: Another provision in the bill would push back a 21 percent Medicare physician pay cut until the end of April as lawmakers consider longer extensions. "Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) said that the ultimate goal is to scrap the flawed sustainable growth-rate formula in favor of a new structure that rewards higher quality of care" (DoBias, 4/12).

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