House Stimulus Plan Would Provide Health Care to 8.2 Million

As House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) jockeys with the Senate to preserve elements of her chamber’s economic recovery plan, health insurance benefits are one of the major issues that need to be reconciled.

The House stimulus provides $40 billion to create a 65% government subsidy for COBRA, the health insurance program for unemployed Americans — but the Senate centrists sliced that in half for their stimulus, cutting COBRA to $21 billion or a 50% subsidy.

The worthiness of maintaining the House’s 65% COBRA subsidy is clear to anyone who’s ever paid to maintain employer-sponsored health benefits after leaving a job. COBRA is prohibitively expensive for even those in two-income families, and slicing the subsidy would put the coverage out of many people’s financial reach.

But how many people would get health care under the 65% subsidy? Pelosi asked the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office that question, and she got her answer last night.7 million adults and dependent children would get the subsidized COBRA by the end of this year, the CBO told Pelosi in a letter available on their web site. Another 1.2 million people also would get health coverage under the House stimulus, the CBO said, thanks to a provision that secures Medicaid coverage for low-income workers who lose their jobs and have no other option.

Unfortunately, the Senate didn’t touch the Medicaid issue in their stimulus. And something tells me senators won’t be eager to debate the health care benefits in the two competing bills, because it’s a fight the House will win.