Health Insurance Reform Update April

The Senate reconvened on April 12, following its two-week recess.  That day, by a vote of 60 to 34, the Senate approved a cloture motion paving the way for Senate floor action on H.R. 4851, the “Continuing Extension Act.”  This bill, which the House approved on March 17, includes a temporary extension – through April 30 – of the Medicare physician payment fix and the eligibility period for premium assistance for COBRA and state continuation coverage.

The Senate passed the legislation by a vote of 59-38, on April 15. Three Republicans supported the bill, Sen. George Voinovich (OH) and Maine Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins and three Democrats did not vote – Evan Bayh (Indiana health insurance), Bill Nelson (Florida health insurance) and Mark Warner (Virginia health insurance).  An amendment to the legislation offered by Senator Max Baucus (D – MT), which was passed by a voice vote, would extend most of the benefits for another month – until the end of May – so as to avoid a repeat battle over this legislation two weeks from now.  President Obama signed the bill into law Thursday night, April 15th.

Under previous law, these legislative provisions expired on March 31, so this bill offers the retroactive benefits to those people laid off between April 1, and when the bill becomes law. It would guarantee that people who enroll for the subsidy by the end of April will get the entire 15 months of federally subsidized health premiums.

It should be noted that Congressional leaders are also focused on passing a longer-term benefit extensions bill, H.R. 4213.  The longer-term options being considered include a Senate bill that would extend the subsidy through the end of the year. A House bill also offers a longer extension, but the two bills would have to be reconciled, prior to becoming law.

Consideration of the annual budget resolution will be another high priority during the next several weeks, beginning with markups in the Senate and House Budget Committees.  One of the key issues the committees will consider is whether to adopt language allowing the budget reconciliation process to be used to advance any major legislative priorities later this year.

The next stretch of the 2010 legislative session will run for seven weeks before Congress recesses again around Memorial Day.

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