Subsidies for the Uninsured Concern GOP, ‘Energize’ Dems
Lawmakers are considering plans to help provide health insurance to employees who have lost their coverage in a "wave of mass layoffs" after the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon -- but some have expressed concern that the proposals may "set a precedent" for an expanded federal role in the private health insurance market, the Boston Globe reports. In the past, Congress has provided tax credits rather than "direct aid" for private health coverage; the new debate has "worried" many Republicans and "energized" many Democrats. Democrats have requested $16 billion in funding to provide federal subsidies of private insurance premiums through COBRA for those laid off since July and to expand Medicaid to cover more people (Kirchoff, Boston Globe, 10/16). COBRA, a provision of a 1986 budget reconciliation law, allows employees who "have been laid off or otherwise left their jobs" to receive health coverage under their former employers' insurance plans by paying 102% of the premiums (California Healthline, 9/27). However, House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) said that individual and business tax cuts, not new subsidies, would mark the "best course." Businesses have fallen "in the middle," the Globe reports. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce "applauds" plans to expand government subsidies for private health insurance, but the National Association of Manufacturers has expressed concern that the proposals would lead to additional paperwork and costs. Neil Trautwein, NAM director of employment policy, said, "[W]e think it's exceedingly important that the Congress think not once, but twice, about how it allocates assistance." President Bush has proposed $3 billion in grants that states could use to cover the cost of health insurance for those laid off in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, but Cindy Mann of the Kaiser Family Foundation said that a federal subsidy "needs to be coupled" with an expansion of Medicaid or other public health programs (Boston Globe, 10/16).