Daschle Introduces Amendment That Would Provide Health Care Benefits for Trade-Displaced Workers
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) yesterday introduced an amendment that would provide health benefits to American workers displaced by international trade and to retired steel workers who lost health coverage as a result of their companies' bankruptcies, the Wall Street Journal reports. The measure was attached to a bill authorizing "fast-track" presidential trade negotiating authority, which would allow trade bills in Congress to face straight up-or-down votes without amendments (Murray/King, Wall Street Journal, 5/2). Daschle's amendment would give trade-displaced workers an "advanceable-refundable" tax credit of 73% of the cost of buying health insurance. Workers who previously had health insurance through their jobs would be required to purchase their new coverage through COBRA -- the 1986 Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, which allows unemployed workers to keep employer-sponsored health coverage by paying 102% of the premiums. Workers who previously lacked health coverage through their jobs would be required to purchase their new benefits through state-based risk pools. Under the amendment, states would receive $100 million to create or augment such insurance pools (Norton, CongressDaily/AM, 5/2). Retired steel workers would receive the same tax credits for one year (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 5/1). Including the $400 million estimated cost of the steel-worker provision, the proposed health benefits would cost about $750 million, according to Democratic aides (Wall Street Journal, 5/2). A trade proposal by President Bush and the version of the trade bill passed in the House last December do not contain any health insurance provisions. However, some Republicans have suggested that they would support a tax credit that would cover up to 60% of the cost of trade-displaced workers' health insurance (California Healthline, 4/17).
Both Democrats and Republicans also are considering amending the to give health benefits to secondary trade-displaced workers -- those who lose their jobs because they provide services for American industries affected by international trade, the Washington Post reports. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and other legislators from agriculture-dependent states have said that ranchers, farmers and fishermen should be considered secondary workers (Allen/Eilperin, Washington Post, 5/2). Sen. John Breaux (D-La.) has proposed a "scaled-back" definition of secondary workers that would include workers making goods but not those in service industries. Breaux also met yesterday with White House officials yesterday to discuss an amendment that would contain a 70% health care tax credit for trade-displaced workers (CongressDaily/AM, 5/2). "The problem is that two-thirds of the Democratic caucus doesn't like the trade bill and two-thirds of the Republican caucus doesn't like the health provisions," Breaux said, adding, "The challenge is to get a majority of both sides to accept something they don't like" (Washington Post, 5/2).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.