Bush Willing to Negotiate Health Insurance Subsidies for Unemployed Workers in Economic Stimulus Bill
In a move that could "signal a breakthrough" in the debate over economic stimulus legislation, HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson yesterday said that President Bush may agree to support a provision in a stimulus bill to provide health insurance subsidies to unemployed workers, USA Today reports. "If it meets the overall parameters that the president has set down, there is a strong possibility ... that the president would sign it," Thompson said. He added that the cost of the health insurance provision would have to fall "within [Bush's] price range" (Welch, USA Today, 11/21). Senate Democrats have proposed legislation that would provide $12.3 billion to help unemployed workers purchase health coverage through COBRA. COBRA, the 1986 Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, allows unemployed workers to retain health coverage under their former employers' insurance plans by paying 102% of the premiums. Senate Republicans last week blocked the bill, effectively killing it (California Healthline, 11/15). USA Today reports that Bush and House Republicans did not include health insurance subsidies in their economic stimulus proposals (USA Today, 11/21).
The House in October approved a $100 billion GOP-sponsored bill, substantially different from the Senate Democrats' bill and supported by Bush, that would increase funding for the Social Security Block Grant program by $3 billion to allow states to provide health insurance to unemployed workers and their families (California Healthline, 10/29). House Republicans have opposed the Democrats' health insurance subsidy plan as a "precedent-setting expansion of the federal government's role in financing private health care," USA Today reports. House Ways and Means Committee Chair Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) "contends the subsidies would apply to health care policies that are typically available to middle- and upper-income workers, rather than low-income workers."
Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill said yesterday that the Bush administration may support some provisions in a compromise economic stimulus plan proposed by Senate moderates. The proposal includes a provision to help unemployed workers purchase health insurance (USA Today, 11/21). The plan would establish a tax credit to help unemployed workers cover 50% of the cost of health insurance through COBRA (Boyer, Washington Times, 11/21). Sens. John Breaux (D-La.), Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), Zell Miller (D-Ga.), Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and James Jeffords (I-Vt.) proposed the plan to "help strike a final compromise" on an economic stimulus bill (Kessler, Washington Post, 11/21). "I think there's a basis for a deal," O'Neill said yesterday on ABC's "Good Morning America" (USA Today, 11/21).
In related news, Thompson said that the nation's public health system will "need significant budget increases to cope" with the increased threat of bioterrorism. Thompson said that the United States would have to spend an additional $300 million per year over the next five years. "Our local public health system is in tatters," he said. However, he said that Congress should not exceed the $40 billion limit that Bush set on emergency anti-terrorism spending this year (USA Today, 11/21). Senate Democrats included in their economic stimulus bill a $15 billion provision sponsored by Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) to improve homeland security, including anti-bioterrorism and food safety measures (California Healthline, 11/15).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.