Vote Expected Today On COBRA Subsidy Extension

Democrats' extension of jobless benefits - including provisions to extend a subsidy to help the newly laid-off afford health insurance - passed a key procedural test yesterday. A final Senate vote on the bill could come today.

Politico: Republicans say the measure violates pay-as-you-go rules that don't allow deficit spending while Demcorats treat the measure's costs as emergency spending. "With the defeat of [a] Republican procedural motion, Democrats very likely will pass the bill when it comes up for a vote Thursday. Earlier Wednesday, Democrats were left scrambling on the floor when they realized they would be one vote short of killing the Republican budgetary motion. With Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt) at home for a funeral and George Voinovich of Ohio the only Republican to break with his party, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) was forced to schedule a re-vote later in the day."

Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, voted with her party. "Snowe's move on the procedural roll call vote was mostly symbolic, though, as her office soon released a statement indicating that she will vote for final passage of the package when it finally gets an up-or-down vote on the floor" (Shiner, 4/14).

The Associated Press: The $18 billion package includes an extension of a COBRA subsidy benefit for newly laid-off workers as part of larger jobless benefits, and averts a 21 percent payment cut to doctors who treat Medicare patients. "Additional weeks of jobless benefits have traditionally been routinely extended during times of high unemployment and have previously always been paid for by adding to the national debt. But with the deficit easily surpassing $1 trillion — and with the issue of deficits and debt is of increasing concern to voters — many Republicans have changed their minds and are now insisting they be financed by spending cuts elsewhere in the $3.7 trillion federal budget" (Taylor, 4/14).

KHN's Morning Edition includes more coverage of the Medicare pay "fix".

The Wall Street Journal: "Federal jobless benefits and health insurance subsidies through the Cobra program expired last week after Republicans blocked an attempt last month to renew them" (Boles, 4/14).

The New York Times: The bill would extend the subsidy and Medicare pay fix until early June in order to give lawmakers longer to hash out a more permanent fix, one that would extend benefits, perhaps, through the end of the year. "Estimates are that more than 200,000 Americans have run out of unemployment benefits since the law lapsed at the beginning of the month" (Hulse, 4/14).

KHN earlier, related coverage: COBRA Health Insurance Subsidies Waiting For Senate Action notes that COBRA provides 18 months of coverage under former employers' plans for those laid-off and the subsidy benefit provides 65 percent of the premium for 15 of those months (Villegas and Mertens, 4/14).

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