Senate Passes Extension Of COBRA, Other Unemployment Benefits

The Senate passed a $140 billion "jobs bill" Wednesday that will extend unemployment coverage, increase federal Medicaid funding, block cuts to physician pay and preserve numerous tax breaks and credits that would have expired without congressional action, The Christian Science Monitor reports. "Jobs trump the national debt. That's the message from a robust, bipartisan Senate voteā€¦" (Chaddock, 3/10).

"Under the legislation, the federal government would transfer $25 billion to states to help them afford rising Medicaid costs," The Wall Street Journal reports. "The legislation would also avert a 21% increase in payments to doctors who treat Medicare patients." The legislation would extend enhanced COBRA benefits to help the unemployed maintain health coverage through the end of the year (Boles, 3/10).

The Hill: Six Senate Republicans joined most Democrats to approve the package. The bill, which its backers say is "a necessary step during the economic recovery," passed on a 62-36 vote. "The bulk of the bill's cost -- about $80 billion -- goes toward prolonging increased levels of federal unemployment aid and COBRA healthcare benefits for the jobless through the end of December." The measure's remaining cost would extend "the current rate of Medicare payments to doctors, which is scheduled to see a 21 percent rate cut" as well as a number of tax breaks.

Some differences, such as revenue raisers, exist between the House and Senate versions of this legislation. The House must now take up the bill and "Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said it's 'an open question' whether House members will force a conference to resolve differences between the Senate and House" (Alarkon, 3/10).

Bloomberg: "The bill approved today would extend until Dec. 31 expiring provisions in the law that offer as many as 99 weeks of unemployment checks, along with a 65 percent subsidy to help buy health insurance through the COBRA program" (Faler, 3/10).

CNN Money: The measure "would also temporarily halt a 21% reduction in Medicare physician reimbursement rates. And it would send another $25 billion to the states to help them fund their Medicaid programs for another six months" (Luhby, 3/10).

Politico: The American Medical Association, however, is not happy with the Senate's action, saying it would prefer lawmakers fix the underlying cause of cuts rather than simply delaying them. "Physicians cannot keep their practice doors open to all Medicare patients without clear direction from Congress on Medicare payment rates" (Shiner, 3/10).

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