Reid Wants COBRA Subsidy Extension, Eyes Medicaid Funds For States

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is trying to extend unemployment benefits, health insurance subsidies for those recently laid-off and help for state Medicaid budgets that would in total cost $100 billion, The Associated Press reports. The measure is separate from the jobs bill. "Facing a Feb. 28 deadline, Reid hopes to pass two measures, one as soon as possible. The first includes a 30-day extension of several of soon-to-expire provisions such as jobless aid, parts of the Patriot Act and prevention of cuts in Medicare payments to doctors."

A Reid aide was heard suggesting a full-year extension of the 65 percent health insurance subsidy — COBRA. Minority Whip Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., "added that the proposal to give more Medicaid help to the states took Republicans by surprise. The nation's governors are lobbying strongly for the help. … The Reid aide also proposed extending for another six months a provision of last year's economic stimulus bill in which the federal government pays a higher share of costs for the state-federal Medicaid health care program for the poor and unemployed." (Taylor, 2/23).

In Arizona, more than 82,000 residents' long-term unemployment remains in limbo, The Arizona Republic reports. "Extended unemployment benefits originally were scheduled to expire on Dec. 31, but were continued by a lawmakers' vote before Congress left on its Christmas break." In the meantime, Arizona officials are preparing to send out cancelation notices to those who would be affected by the end in benefits.

"An earlier bipartisan proposal would have extended the aid through May 31. Reid pulled that proposal in favor of one that would expire at the end of the year. The latter proposal would be considered during the 30-day extension that Reid plans to pass this week" (Zlomek, 2/24).

Business Insurance reports that the stopgap measure "would extend the federal premium subsidy to employees involuntarily terminated from March 1 through either March 15 or March 30, depending on the length of the extension lawmakers decide on. The subsidy pays 65% of an individual's COBRA premiums for up to 15 months" (Geisel, 2/23).

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