Congress Pondering Federal COBRA Subsidy

January 9, 2009 ( - Senator Max Baucus (D-Montana), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, says Congressional negotiators have "pretty much agreed" to include in their latest economic stimulus bill federal government subsidies for COBRA health care premiums for workers who lose their jobs.

Quoting unnamed business lobbyists, Business Insurance reported that the government would pick up the tab for50% to 60% of the premium for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act( COBRA) program payments for the workers.

Thesubsidy would be offered for 18 months, the maximum employees can obtain COBRA coverage from their former employers, according to the news report. In other situations, such as divorce, death, and marital separation, beneficiaries are eligible for up to 36 months of COBRA coverage.

The lobbyists said they did not know what criteria—such as income level—beneficiaries would have to meet to be eligible for the government subsidy.

Media reports earlier in the week indicated that President-elect Barack Obama’s economic stimulus plan also includes proposed COBRA changes, and would allow workers laid off from jobs that did not include health insurance would be allowed to buy into the federal-state Medicaid program for the poor (seeObama Jobless Benefit Expansion Funded by Employer Payments ).