President Obama has signed H.R. 1, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, a bill that includes health benefits subsidies for laid-off workers, health information technology standards and privacy provisions, and funding for efforts to study the effectiveness of various medical treatments.
Members of the House voted 246-183 to pass the bill Friday afternoon.
Members of the Senate passed the bill by a 60-38 vote late in the evening. Senate supporters had to wait for Sen. Sherrod Brown-D-Ohio, to fly back from his mother’s funeral to get the final vote needed to get the bill through the Senate.
The bill received no Republican votes in the House and only 3 Republican votes in the Senate.
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Drafts and even detailed descriptions of the conference report — a compromise version of the bill that combines the House and Senate versions — were scarce last week.
Earlier, the House passed a version of the bill would have subsidized 65% of the cost of laid-off workers continuing Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act health coverage continuation benefits. The Senate passed a bill that included a 50% subsidy.
The version that Obama signed provides a 65% subsidy for up to 9 months.
According to the authors of a “joint explanatory statement” that accompanies the final version of ARRA:
The program is mandatory for employers required to offer COBRA continuation health coverage. Eligible individuals must have a qualifying event between September 1, 2008 and December 31, 2009, and must have been terminated involuntarily. Firms providing COBRA benefits will be able to allow those electing COBRA to choose from other insurance options at the time of the qualifying event, and firms will be able to contribute to the individual portion of the premium. (Lastly, the benefit phases out for single taxpayers with modified adjusted gross incomes betwecn $125,000 and $145,000 ($250,000 and $290,000 for joint filers) for the taxable year….
… if COBRA subsidy exceeds payroll taxes, employers will be reimbursed directly through a program established by the Department of Trcasury. COBRA continuation health coverage for this purpose includes not only coverage that applies to private, nongovernmental employers with 20 or more employees but also coverage rules that apply to Federal and State and local governmental employers pursuant to Federal law, and to State law mandates that apply to small employers (employers with less than 20 employees) and other employers not covered by Federal law, provided that such State law mandates require an employer or other entity to offer comparable continuation health coverage.