KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

House Votes To Extend COBRA Benefits For A Month, Bunning Stalls Senate Action

After the House passed a month-long extension of COBRA and other benefits for laid-off workers, the Senate Thursday did not follow suit, "jeopardizing unemployment benefits scheduled to expire over the weekend," The Associated Press reports. The extension will likely expire Sunday because the Senate "couldn't overcome the objections of a single lawmaker, Republican Sen. Jim Bunning of Kentucky, that the $10 billion bill would add to the budget deficit. The bill would extend unemployment payments to laid-off workers and provide them with subsidies to help pay health premiums through the COBRA program," which allows laid-off employees to keep their employer's health coverage for up to 18 months.

"The Senate adjourned just before midnight with no further votes scheduled until Tuesday. To avoid an interruption in benefits, senators would have to act quickly when they return, a task made difficult by Senate rules that let a single senator slow the process" (Ohlemacher, 2/26).

The New York Times: "As the fight drew to a close, Mr. Bunning complained he had been ambushed by the Democrats and was forced to miss the Kentucky-South Carolina basketball game. He said Democrats caused their own problems by dropping the program extensions from an earlier bipartisan jobs measure. ... 'I believe we should pay for it,' declared Mr. Bunning, who said he was determined to remain to thwart the Democrats. 'I'll be here as long as you are here.'" Democrats were critical of Bunning for standing in the way of benefits they say many Americans rely on (Hulse and Pear, 2/25).

Bloomberg/Business Week: "The measure, approved (in the House) on a voice vote yesterday, also would prevent looming (21 percent) cuts in Medicare reimbursements to doctors. … The measure, likely to be passed by the Senate next week, would buy lawmakers time to debate longer-term extensions of the programs" (Faler, 2/26).

An aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told Dow Jones Newswires/The Wall Street Journal that Reid hopes to take up legislation that includes a longer-term extension of the benefits next week (Boles, 2/25).

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