Daschle Hints at Compromise on Health Benefits for Displaced Workers in Trade Bill
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) yesterday told business and agricultural lobbyists that the "door might be open to a compromise" on a health care subsidy component of proposed "fast-track" trade legislation, which would allow trade bills in Congress to face straight up-or-down votes without amendments, CongressDaily/AM reports (Norton, CongressDaily/AM, 4/10). A trade promotion bill approved by the Senate Finance Committee in February contains a provision that would offer American workers displaced by international trade a 75% subsidy to purchase health insurance through COBRA -- the 1986 Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, which allows unemployed workers to keep their employer-sponsored health coverage by paying 102% of the premiums. A proposal by President Bush and a version of the bill passed by the House last December do not contain any health insurance provisions. However, some Republicans have suggested they would support a tax credit that would cover up to 60% of the cost of trade-displaced workers' health insurance (California Healthline, 4/5). Yesterday, Daschle said that he "strong[ly] support[s]" a COBRA subsidy but added that "'there is willingness' to look at moderate proposals" to use refundable tax credits (CongressDaily/AM, 4/10). Business leaders have voiced "strong opposition" to providing health coverage to trade-displaced workers through COBRA subsidies, CongressDaily reports. Neil Trautwein, director of employment policy for the National Association of Manufacturers, said using COBRA to cover trade-displaced workers would increase premiums for companies because the program attracts "less healthy individuals." NAM, which instead supports the tax credit approach, will likely soon "send a letter on the subject to lawmakers" (Mitchell, CongressDaily, 4/9).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.