KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Bunning Continues To Block COBRA Subsidy Extension, Medicare ‘Doc Fix’

Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., is blocking a bill that would temporarily extend unemployment benefits and federal subsidies for some health insurance benefits.

The Los Angeles Times: "Bunning used one of the Senate's arcane procedural tactics to hold up the measure as a way of protesting the federal deficit -- and drawing intense fire from Democrats in the process. Bunning, who is retiring at the end of the year, said he had opposed the bill because it didn't include an offset in spending to keep the federal deficit from increasing. Senate leaders gave Bunning a chance Monday on the Senate floor to allow the unemployment insurance and COBRA health insurance extensions to go through. But he renewed his objection."

"The Senate is likely to pass the package but not until later this week. The bill would have extended provisions that were included in last year's economic stimulus package, including one in which the federal government assumes 65% of the cost of COBRA health benefits. It would have also continued other key programs, including one that would keep Medicare reimbursement rates at current levels. On Monday, the government began a 21% cut in Medicare payments to doctors" (Oliphant, 3/2). (See today's related Daily Report coverage related to physicians' reaction to the pay cut.)

USA Today: "As the stalemate continued Monday, Democratic leaders introduced a new bill to extend the benefits through the end of the year. ... The delay sent ripples through the government, including: ... A subsidy that covers 65% of health insurance premiums under the COBRA program would end for people who are laid off starting this week. The program insures people after they lose their jobs. "If you're not getting the subsidy, there's a high likelihood that you join the ranks of the uninsured," said Ron Pollack with Families USA."

"Medicare will begin imposing a 21% cut in fees it pays to doctors. In a statement, the American Medical Association warned that the cut 'has put seniors at grave risk of reduced access to health care and choice of physician'" (Fritze, 3/1).

CBS News: "Republicans contend Democrats are at fault here for bringing the bill up at the last minute. Both sides are trying to work around Bunning to pass it and restore all these benefits within the next two weeks" (Cordes, 3/1). 

The Hill: "Senate Democrats are catching blame from low- and middle-income workers, one of the biggest constituencies, for letting the situation spin out of control and leaving an estimated 200,000 workers without benefits this week. Democrats decried Bunning and the GOP in a flood of press releases Monday" (Bolton, 3/1).

Politico: "Sen. Jim Bunning took to the Senate floor on Monday to defend his one-man filibuster of expiring unemployment benefits. 'If we can't find $10 billion to pay for something that we all support, we will never pay for anything on the floor of this U.S. Senate,' he said. ... Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid fired back ... Bunning, said Reid, raised no objections to passing the Bush tax cuts and authorizing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq without paying for the provisions. 'We don't need lectures here on debt,' said Reid"  (Lerer, 3/1).

The Wall Street Journal reports that "those who lost benefits might have to reapply, resulting in delays from three weeks to two months, according to Andrew Stettner, deputy director of the National Employment Law Project, a left-leaning advocacy and research group. Democrats used Mr. Bunning's move to highlight what they said was a pattern of Republicans gumming up the works on even the most popular measures. Many Republican leaders, cognizant of the political peril surrounding Mr. Bunning's action, quietly distanced themselves" (Bendavid, 3/2).

This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.