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Senate Restores COBRA Provision

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Washington–The U.S. Senate finally passed legislation Tuesday night restoring eligibility for 30 days to a provision that allows laid-off people to receive unemployment insurance and COBRA health insurance benefits through December 31, 2010.

The Senate acted on the Temporary Extension Act of 2010, H.R. 4691, Tuesday night after Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ken., dropped his opposition to the bill.

However, the bill was not retroactive and only lasts until March 28. It passed 78-19 and could be signed by President Obama as early as today.

The bill did not contain a provision that 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.

That is included in a longer-term bill introduced Monday by Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., Senate majority leader, and Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

That bill, the American Workers, State and Business Relief Act, could be passed by Congress later this week. The bill contains the retirement benefit provision.

But the bill passed Tuesday night does extend a special Medicare Advantage subsidy for special and rural needs plans.

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According to Hilda Solis, secretary of the Department of Labor, the bill restores emergency compensation and full federal funding to 400,000 Americans.

“The unemployed will lose these vital benefits during the first couple of weeks in March.”

The benefits were part of the stimulus package passed by Congress last year.

The Medicare Advantage provision extends the authority of certain types of private plans to offer coverage under Medicare Advantage for one year, to 2011.

According to Sens. Reid and Baucus, those plan types are special needs plans, cost plans, and senior housing programs.

The bill also includes a technical fix for existing employer-sponsored private fee-for-service plans. And it 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 ten years.