Congress Returns To Controversy Over Doctors’ Medicare Pay, COBRA Susidies
Los Angeles Times: "With voter anger about the federal deficit intensifying in this election year, Democrats in Congress are edging away from one of their long-held articles of faith - government spending on social programs ... The painful tradeoff comes to center stage this week, when the Senate tries again to pass an extension of unemployment benefits - this time a $54-billion measure that marks an abrupt retreat from a $200-billion bill that Democratic leaders had proposed before the Memorial Day recess. The stripped-down bill is just one sign of how budget anxieties are beginning to impinge on Democrats' legislative ambitions and traditional commitments" (Hook, 6/7).
The New York Times reports that "the first order of business for Senate Democratic leaders is what to do about expiring unemployment compensation and a $100 billion package of tax breaks, spending programs and increased taxes on corporations and the affluent. The House approved the package just before heading out the door for Memorial Day but the Senate took no action, meaning that extended unemployment benefits for thousands of Americans began running out last week. In addition, a 21 percent cut in fees paid to doctors by Medicare has also gone into effect since the legislation stalled, a drop in payments that could lead some physicians to quit treating those on Medicare" (Hulse, 6/7).
CongressDaily: "The House [version] would increase physician payments under Medicare by 2.2 percent through the end of 2010 and 1 percent in 2011. The package is also drawing ire from states and union groups because the House stripped provisions to extend federal assistance for Medicaid and COBRA subsidies to garner enough Blue Dog votes to pass the legislation" (Cohn and McCarthy, 6/7).
Detroit News: "New York officials had been presuming they would get $1 billion in federal aid this year to help cover the rise in Medicaid costs attributable to the recession, just as it received such aid in last year's federal stimulus package. 'If New York doesn't get that money, our deficit is going to balloon from $9.2 billion to $10.2 billion,' Gov. David E. Paterson said" recently (Zremski, 6/7).
The Hill: "Senators returning from the Memorial Day recess can expect to be under intense pressure from their elderly constituents worried about losing access to their doctor. A steep cut in Medicare payments to physicians will go into effect shortly unless the Senate acts to prevent what physicians' groups are warning could be the unraveling of the nation's healthcare program for the elderly" (Pecquet, 6/5).
MarketWatch: "Unless Congress passes an extension retroactively, people who lose their jobs on or after June 1 no longer will receive government financial help to cover 65% of their premium costs for Cobra health coverage, which lets them continue on their former employer's group health plan. Cobra coverage requires former employees to pay full freight for their health insurance, meaning the entire cost of the premium plus an administrative fee of up to 2%." The article provides some advice for laid-off workers looking for insurance coverage (Gerencher, 6/6).
The Detroit News reports that a study by the advocacy group Families USA study finds that under the current provisions passed by the House Michigan residents losing their jobs after June 1 "face average monthly COBRA health care premiums of $1,019, which would gobble up more than three-quarters of their jobless benefits. ... But budget analyst Brian Riedl of the conservative Heritage Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, opposes restoring the items, pointing out that the federal debt totals $13 trillion.
Allowing workers laid off through the end of the year to tap into the federal COBRA subsidy would cost $7.8 billion over 10 years" (Price, 6/6).
CNN Money: "House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Tuesday that she plans to revisit the COBRA subsidy. However, she noted, it is a controversial provision that could be difficult to pass. Just how many people are filing for the subsidy isn't known. But a recent Treasury Department survey found that between 25% and 33% of eligible jobless New Jersey residents were participating and most of them were middle class" (Luhby, 6/6).