Stimulus Debate Centers on Health Insurance
As Republicans and Democrats debate economic stimulus proposals, the fight "hinges largely" on provisions to help unemployed workers purchase health insurance, the AP/Nando Times reports (Anderson, AP/Nando Times, 10/28). The House last week approved a $100 billion GOP-sponsored bill (HR 3090) that includes $3 billion in grants to allow states to expand health coverage for unemployed workers (MacDonald, Hartford Courant, 10/27). Under the bill, lawmkers would increase the Social Security Block Grant program funding by $3 billion to allow states to provide health insurance to unemployed workers and their families through a number of programs (House Ways and Means Committee release, 10/12). House Democrats had proposed a rival bill, which the House defeated on a 261-166 vote last week, that would have offered unemployed workers a 75% subsidy to purchase health insurance through the COBRA program. 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. However, COBRA premiums often cost "several hundred dollars per month" -- preventing many workers from using the program (California Healthline, 9/27). Democrats criticized the Republican plan as "too small" to help unemployed workers purchase health coverage through COBRA. However, Republicans said that their plan would allow states to address a "broader range of health care needs" (Hartford Courant, 10/27). In addition, GOP lawmakers said that the Democratic proposal would "amount to a new federal entitlement that will never disappear" (AP/Nando Times, 10/28).
In the Senate, Democrats have offered a number of economic stimulus plans with a "much larger health care component" than House Republicans, according to the Hartford Courant, although Democrats will not likely introduce legislation for two weeks (Hartford Courant, 10/27). Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) has proposed a $70 billion plan that would establish a 50% subsidy to help unemployed workers purchase health insurance through the COBRA program and allow more unemployed workers to qualify for Medicaid. Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) has proposed "more generous" health insurance subsidies for unemployed workers. In addition, Sens. John Breaux (D-La.) and James Jeffords (I-Vt.) have proposed a two-year, $9.4 billion plan that would provide tax credits to help unemployed workers purchase health insurance through their former employers (
href="/members/basecontent.asp?contentid=43895&collectionid=3&program=1">California Healthline, 10/25). Baucus said that the grants proposed in the House Republican plan "won't reach people in time" because state legislatures may have to vote to release the funds to unemployed workers (AP/Nando Times, 10/28). President Bush and the insurance industry support the House Republican plan, but some analysts said that the "close House vote" and a Democratic Senate "suggest the health care component of the stimulus package ultimately will be expanded." Still, some analysts say that Senate Democrats "have not united" behind one proposal and that Bush may veto "any large grant plan" proposed by Democrats (Hartford Courant, 10/27).