WASHINGTON–Legislation introduced Monday by the Senate Democratic leadership would restore certain job, health-related and business tax relief programs that expired because of resistance by Republicans.
One provision, deemed a priority by labor interests, would restore eligibility to receive unemployment insurance benefits and COBRA health insurance subsidies, beginning Feb. 28, when the program expired, through Dec. 31.
The proposal is estimated to cost $11.1 billion over 10 years.
Two others regarded as critical by life insurance industry officials would ease the burden on retirement benefit plans by delaying the need for employers to replenish plans which suffered large losses because of the decline in the value of debt and equity instruments over the last several years.
Another would extend a special Medicare Advantage subsidy for special and rural needs plans.
The bill, the American Workers, State and Business Relief Act, was introduced by Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., Senate majority leader, and Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
Some of the provisions restore government programs that lapsed when a continuing resolution that required unanimous consent for passage was blocked by Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ken. Bunning opposed the bill because it did not contain provisions that would pay for it.
He seeks to pay for the provisions by using money from stimulus funds Democrats seek to use for other purposes.
The COBRA provision was of primary importance, said Hilda Solis, secretary of the Department of Labor.”
“If emergency unemployment compensation and full federal funding of the extended benefit program are not extended, 400,000 Americans will lose these vital benefits during the first couple of weeks in March,” Solis said.
By May, nearly 3 million people would be left without these benefits, she said.
“Furthermore, if the Recovery Act COBRA subsidy is not extended, thousands of families will lose access to affordable health care,” she said.
The benefit plan relief provision, a priority of the American Benefits Council, would provide temporary, targeted funding relief for single employer and multiemployer pension plans that suffered significant losses in asset value due to the steep market slide in 2008. This proposal is estimated to raise approximately $5.3 billion over 10 years.
The Medicare Advantage provision would extend the authority of certain types of private plans to offer coverage under Medicare Advantage to 2011.
The bill also includes a technical fix for existing employer-sponsored private fee-for-service plans and provides $20 million in added funds for State Health Insurance Assistance Programs and similar organizations that assist beneficiaries with Medicare benefits.
These proposals are estimated to cost $800 million over 10 years.