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NAHU, AARP Welcome Passage Of COBRA Expansion Bill

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The National Association of Health Underwriters and AARP both are welcoming House committee approval of a bill that would help laid-off workers pay to continue their health benefits.

Under current Consolidated Omnibus Reconciliation Act benefits continuation rules, employers can ask terminated workers to pay 102% of the cost of continuing benefits.

Members of the House Ways and Means Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee moved Thursday to approve economic recovery bills that would let eligible involuntarily terminated workers keep employer-sponsored group health benefits for up to 12 months, with the government paying 65% of the premiums and the terminated workers paying 35%.

The bills also include a provision that would permit eligible workers ages 55 and older and those with 10 or more years of service to keep COBRA benefits, by paying 102 percent of the premiums, until they became eligible for Medicare.

The bills also include major health information technology provisions that could encourage doctors and hospitals to shift to electronic health record systems.

House leaders expect to combine the bills and send them to the House floor as H.R. 1 next week.

Janet Trautwein, chief executive of NAHU, Arlington, Va., has put out a statement praising House members’ quick House action on the legislation.

“COBRA payments may be too expensive for unemployed workers, and a premium subsidy will help those individuals maintain coverage during a very difficult time,” Trautwein says in the statement.

NAHU also likes the goals of the authors of the health information technology section, Trautwein says.

“NAHU fully supports establishing standards, provider payment incentives and privacy protections to encourage the widespread adoption of electronic medical records,” Trautwein says.

AARP Chief Executive Bill Novelli says he sent House leaders a letter noting that AARP is “very pleased” with the COBRA subsidy and health information sections of the economic recovery legislation.

Novelli expressed concerns about provisions in the package dealing with other issues, such as the level of benefits going to disabled individuals and individuals with very low incomes.

America’s Health Insurance Plans, Washington, put out a statement last week backing congressional efforts to help unemployed people keep their health benefits and the general goal of encouraging increased use of health information technology.

But AHIP believes some provisions could inhibit exchanges of health information that could hurt efforts to coordinate patient care, improve health care quality and streamline health care administration, according to AHIP President Karen Ignagni.

Groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Washington, and the National Business Group on Health, Washington, say the package provisions dealing with COBRA benefits for older workers and long-tenured workers would lead to big increases in health plan administration costs.


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