COBRA Subsidies Continued, Medicare Cuts Delayed

President Barack Obama signed legislation Thursday night extending extra unemployment benefits through May, including subsidies to help the laid-off buy health insurance under so-called COBRA rules, The New York Times reports. "The measure, which would continue added unemployment benefits and other expired federal programs through May, will restore aid to thousands of Americans who had exhausted their benefits or whose eligibility was expiring. " The new law comes after a two-week gap in benefits for some people as Senate Republicans held up progress on the measure (Hulse, 4/15).

USA Today: The bill passed 59-38. "Three Republicans voted with Democrats on the bill: George Voinovich of Ohio and Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine. Three Democrats did not vote: Evan Bayh of Indiana, Bill Nelson of Florida and Mark Warner of Virginia" (Fritze, 4/15).

The Associated Press: "The bill also restores full Medicare payments to doctors who were threatened by a 21 percent cut and refloats the flood insurance program." Obama asked lawmakers to extend the package for the rest of the year. The temporary extension will cost $18 billion, an expense that will be added to the deficit. Republicans objected to the added deficit spending, but the "situation became more urgent Thursday afternoon when Medicare announced that it would start paying doctors' claims at a 21 percent lower rate" (Taylor, 4/16).

MedPage Today: "The 21 [percent] cut officially took effect April 1, but Medicare has held off paying claims since then in anticipation of Congressional action, so that doctors have yet to feel the sting. … Congress has already voted several times this year to push the 21% cut in reimbursement down the road. The most recent reprieve -- during which doctors received no increase in payments but no cuts -- expired on April 1" (Walker, 4/15).

Politico: "The bill bypassed pay-as-you-go rules because it was designated as a temporary 'emergency' spending plan." But, those requirements – that legislation be paid for in advance in order not to balloon the deficit -- may make it hard for Democrats to pursue other items on their agenda, such as the year-long fix to the unemployment programs (Shiner, 4/16).

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