After GOP Block, Casey, Brown Introduce Bill to Reinstate COBRA Premium Assistance

WASHINGTON, DC—U.S. Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) today introduced legislation that would reinstate the expired COBRA health care premium assistance for laid off workers.  

“Extending the COBRA health care premium assistance has widespread support in the Senate,” said Senator Casey.  “Like unemployment insurance and aid for the states, this measure to help laid off workers pay for health insurance is being blocked.  I will continue to look at all options to get this vital legislation passed."

“Though the economy is starting to rebound, Americans continue to lose their jobs in record numbers,” said Senator Brown.  “Now is not the time for more American workers to join the ranks of the uninsured. We need to make sure that families have access to affordable health care during these challenging economic times. That means ensuring recently laid off workers have the access to discounted COBRA premiums. I will continue to fight to extend this successful program.”

The COBRA assistance expired on May 31st.  The Casey-Brown legislation would extend the program through November 30, 2010 and is fully paid for.  Senators Casey and Brown attempted to attach COBRA premium assistance to tax extenders legislation, but failed due to Republican opposition.

The legislation to extend COBRA premium assistance is also cosponsored by Senators John Kerry (D-MA), Carl Levin (D-MI), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Christopher Dodd (D-CT), Al Franken (D-MN), Roland Burris (D-IL) and Daniel Akaka (D-HI).

In addition, Senators Casey and Brown also sent a letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) urging support for an extension of COBRA premium assistance.  This letter was also signed by Senators Leahy, Levin, Dodd, Arlen Specter (D-PA), Kerry, Tom Harkin (D-IA) , Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Akaka, Ron Wyden (D-OR), Jack Reed (D-RI), Stabenow, Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Whitehouse, Ted Kaufman (D-DE), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Mark Begich (D-AK), Franken and Burris.

Without the extension of the COBRA Premium Assistance Program, a report from the National Employment Law Projects predicts as many as 150,000 Americans each month will lose out on the subsidies necessary to afford quality healthcare.

A study by Families USA shows that 4 million Americans, including 98,500 Pennsylvanians lost their employer-based coverage due to job loss in 2009.

The average cost of COBRA family coverage is three-quarters of monthly unemployment benefits in Pennsylvania and 40 other states. In some states, health premiums actually cost more than monthly unemployment benefits, slowly driving families further into debt.