Senate Continues Consideration Of ‘Tax Extenders,’ Democrats Push For COBRA SubsidyCongressDaily: The Senate is continuing work on a $140 billion package of tax breaks that includes some unemployment benefits and a temporary fix of the payments to Medicare physicians. "Final passage is not expected until next week on what is likely to be a partisan vote. But there are areas of agreement across the aisle. Senate Republicans' alternative to extenders bill would renew tax breaks for businesses and families, extend unemployment insurance through November and prevent Medicare physician payment cuts through 2012 - a year longer than the Democrats' plan. The measure includes medical malpractice reforms long sought by the physicians' lobby, while dropping tax increases proposed on investment fund managers, international corporations and small professional services firms organized as S corporations." The Republican plan also would do away with a proposal for $24 billion in help to states to fund Medicaid programs that the Senate has reinserted to the legislation, currently missing from a House version of the bill. Without a fix of the Medicare physician payments, doctors would see a 21 percent reduction in pay (Cohn, 6/11).
Dow Jones Newswires/The Wall Street Journal: In the meantime, some Senate Democrats are fighting to reinsert money to help the laid-off afford to keep their former employer's health coverage through the federal program known as COBRA. "The subsidies through the COBRA program had been part of an earlier version of the legislation but were stripped out in the House because of concerns of moderate Democrats about the cost of the bill. When the legislation returned to the Senate this week, Democratic leaders added $24 billion in aid to states to help them pay for rising Medicaid costs, but the insurance subsidies weren't included. The subsidy program expired alongside emergency federal jobless benefits on June 2."
The subsidy program pays 65 percent of the cost of COBRA for laid off workers. "Without the subsidies, people who lose their health-insurance coverage when they are laid off still would have the right to continue their existing coverage but would have to foot the bill for the entire amount - including the portion formerly paid for by the employer." Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., introduced an amendment that would extend the subsidy to people laid off through November, potentially at a cost of $7 billion for an estimated 144,000 people a month. "But despite the support of the three senior Senate Democrats - Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.), and his top lieutenants Sens. Richard Durbin (D., Ill.) and Charles Schumer (D., N.Y.), it is unclear whether the matter will come up for a vote on the Senate floor next week" (Boles and Raice, 6/10).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.