Democrats Offer Provision in Trade Bill to Help Some Unemployed Workers Purchase Health Insurance
Senate Democrats have included a provision to help unemployed workers "displaced by trade" purchase health insurance in a trade adjustment assistance bill (S 1209) -- "raising the possibility of a nasty dustup" over whether the trade bill should provide such health benefits, CongressDaily/AM reports. The Senate Finance Committee earlier this month passed a TAA bill with a provision that would require the Department of Labor to establish a program to offer unemployed workers displaced by 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 (Koffler, CongressDaily/AM, 2/13). Democrats offered a similar proposal to cover a broader swath of unemployed workers in an economic stimulus bill that died in the Senate last year (California Healthline, 11/15). Republicans "unalterably oppos[e]" the health insurance provision, which has "not traditionally been part of the TAA program," CongressDaily/AM reports. Business lobbyists do not like the provision because they said it could "herald other costly new initiatives." Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), respectively the chair and ranking member of the Finance Committee, and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) have begun negotiations with the White House and the Department of Labor on the trade bill. According to sources, a compromise on the legislation may include a proposal to provide health coverage for displaced workers through tax credits, rather than COBRA. But CongressDaily/AM reports that "Republicans are resisting this too, even though they may find it more palatable." Grassley said that lawmakers should help uninsured workers displaced by trade, "but as a separate matter." However, a senior Democratic aide said, "There will have to be a significant health piece and significant health benefits to workers" as part of a TAA bill (CongressDaily/AM, 2/13).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.