Monday, March 8, 2010

COBRA subsidy gets short extension

 President Obama on March 2 signed into law (111-144) a one-month extension of eligibility for the COBRA premium subsidy. Subsidy eligibility, which expired on February 28, is now extended until March 31.

The extension became law after a dramatic evening Senate session in which Sen. Jim Bunning (R-KY) ended a five-day long effort to block passage of the extension. Bunning had objected to the extension, he said, due to concerns over its impact on the deficit.

Most of the Republican Caucus did not share Bunning's concerns over this legislation. The measure passed unanimously in the House, while the Senate (after Bunning threw in the towel) passed the measure 78-19. Why didn't more Republicans stand behind Bunning? Some reports indicate that the Republicans believed Bunning's posture was damaging their political brand, by making them appear unsympathetic to the unemployed.

So, will the extension help maintain health coverage for the unemployed? Yes, according to a recent study by the Commonwealth Fund. It indicates that COBRA enrollment has increased since the initial creation of the subsidy in February 2009. Even better, the lower cost has tempted healthier individuals to enroll for COBRA benefits. However, the Fund cautions, even with the subsidy, many of those eligible cannot afford to purchase COBRA coverage.


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