There are no surprises here.
At a time when jobs are being lost all over the nation, and the unemployed are wondering what will happen to them and their families, it is the Republicans who are finding fault with programs in the stimulus bill that will provide for health coverage. (Are we shocked?)
The idea that government should be an ally, and a bridge in times of national crisis seems lost on Republicans who care more about the wealthy and elite, than the workers who have lost their jobs. I wonder what the GOP thinks should happen to a family that lost their health care due to a job loss, and then faces health care needs. How does the GOP think that a COBRA payment can be paid when the family paycheck is no longer coming in?
Where do conservatives put their hearts and minds when entering the political arena and hoping to shape policy?
As I have stated before on this site I applaud the fact that the economic stimulus bill is being designed not to just meet the current needs of the economy, but also in addressing long-term problems that have needed a response for years. It is a good thing that government again work with the understanding that we are capable of lifting up those in need. That is what makes me proud to be an American, and of being a Democrat. We never have to apologize for an activist government that is working for the betterment of us all.
But the GOP is making a real stink about progress in health care in the nation, as it is contained in the stimulus bill. TOUGH! For too many decades we have watched as the rest of the world moved in a progressive direction to universal health coverage. Though the plans underway in the stimulus bill do not create this goal, there is movement that should be greeted with enthusiasm.
I know it will be by those who need health care coverage in these frightful times, and from those of us who see universal coverage as needed national policy.
With little notice and no public hearings, House Democrats would create a temporary new entitlement allowing workers getting unemployment checks to qualify for Medicaid, the health program for low-income people. Spouses and children could also receive benefits, no matter how much money the family had.
In addition, the stimulus package would offer a hefty subsidy to help laid-off workers retain the same health plans they had from their former employers.
Altogether, the economic recovery bill would speed $127 billion over the next two and a half years to individuals and states for health care.
Of the $127 billion cost, the CBO said, $87 billion would be used to increase the federal share of Medicaid, $29 billion would subsidize private insurance and $11 billion would finance Medicaid for unemployed workers who could not otherwise qualify.
Most of the aid is billed as temporary. But Republicans fear that states would get hooked on it, just as they might grow accustomed to a big increase in federal aid to education, also included in the bill.
Democrats said the current economic crisis did not allow time for public hearings on the legislation.
“This is as urgent as it gets,” said Representative Anna G. Eshoo, Democrat of California.
After the House Ways and Means Committee approved its piece of the economic recovery legislation last Thursday, Representative Pete Stark, Democrat of California, said, “We accomplished more today than in the last eight years.”
Congressional Democrats developed the package in close consultation with President Obama. Health care provisions of the bill taking shape in the Senate are broadly similar to those in the House bill, though they may prove less expensive. Obama aides and advisers said the president would insist on health insurance assistance for the unemployed as part of a final bill, which he wants to sign by mid-February.
The legislation would allow states to provide Medicaid to an entirely new group: those who are receiving unemployment insurance benefits, their spouses and children under 19.
Medicaid is normally for low-income people, and for decades it has been financed jointly by the federal government and the states, with the federal share averaging 57 percent of costs.
The economic stimulus bill prevents states from enforcing a means test, saying, “No income or resources test shall be applied with respect to any category of individuals” who become eligible for Medicaid because they are receiving unemployment benefits. The federal government would pay 100 percent of the costs for people enrolled under this option through December 2010.
Republicans said this proposal would take a big step toward federalizing Medicaid. For their part, Democrats said the changes took a major step toward their goal of coverage for all Americans.
At the same time, the legislation would provide a huge measure of fiscal relief to state Medicaid programs, at a time when state revenues are declining and the number of Medicaid recipients is rising because of the recession.
The federal share of Medicaid spending now ranges from 50 percent in higher-income states like New York and Connecticut to more than 73 percent in poor states like Mississippi and West Virginia. Under the House bill, the federal share would be increased by at least 4.9 percentage points in every state, and by much more in states with large increases in unemployment.
The bill would also offer a lifeline to workers who have lost health insurance along with their jobs. In theory, such workers and their families can keep their group health benefits for 18 months under a federal law, the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1986, known as Cobra. But laid-off workers are often required to pay 102 percent of the full premium, including the employer’s share, so the cost now can be prohibitive.
Under the bill, the federal government would pay 65 percent of the premiums for a year. That subsidy would almost surely increase the number of laid-off workers choosing to continue coverage.