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House Dems say Medicaid shift would hurt seniors

Medicaid is vital to seniors in nursing homes and mustn’t be converted into a block-grant system as House Republicans seek to do, 32 House Democrats from California told President Barack Obama in a letter today.

“The Medicaid program has been an effective partnership between state and federal governments for our most vulnerable by providing services at the most affordable rate,” they wrote. “Although children and parents make up about 75 percent of Medicaid enrollees, they account for less than a third of the spending. In contrast, the elderly and individuals with disabilities make up about 25 percent of enrollees but about two-thirds of spending. This translates in California, according to a recent Families USA report, to helping fund nearly 69,000 seniors in nursing homes and providing nearly 517,000 seniors and persons with disabilities with Medicaid home and community service support.”

Changing Medicaid into a block grant indexed to inflation and population growth means shifting the burdens of rising health care costs and an aging population onto the states, the lawmakers wrote. The Congressional Budget Office reported last month that federal contributions under such a system would decrease by nearly 35 percent within a decade, and the Kaiser Family Foundation says that means California would lose nearly $122 billion in federal Medicaid funds, leading to benefit cuts and more eligibility restrictions.

“If you sign such legislation into law, California could see nearly 5 million more uninsured residents by the end of the decade,” they wrote.

The letter’s signers include Reps. George Miller, D-Martinez; John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton; Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Pete Stark, D-Fremont; Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough; Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; Mike Honda, D-San Jose; and Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma.

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Laid-off workers start losing COBRA subsidies

Many of the millions of laid-off workers and dependents who were getting federal subsidies to help pay for health care coverage are now losing those subsidies and so might end up joining the ranks of the uninsured, according to a report issued today by two health-care advocacy groups supporting Democratic reform plans.

The report by Families USA, co-released by Health Access California, notes subsidies started last March under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act economic stimulus were made available for only nine months, so the first round of recipients saw their subsidies expire yesterday.

These ARRA subsidies pay 65 percent of the cost of COBRA premiums needed to continue health coverage from laid-off workers previous employers; in California, federal subsidies for COBRA family coverage average $720 per month.

Without subsidies, the report says, laid-off Californians will face COBRA premiums averaging $1,107 per month; that’s 82.1 percent of the average $1,349 monthly unemployment insurance checks they receive.

“When workers lose their jobs, they often lose their health coverage as well,” Families USA Executive Director Ron Pollack said in a news release. “For millions of laid-off workers and their families, the federal COBRA subsidies have been a health-coverage lifeline. It is essential, therefore, that new jobs legislation extends those subsidies.”

Pollack also noted health-reform bills now pending in Congress would let laid-off workers and their families get coverage through a new marketplace called an “exchange,” and families with low incomes would receive tax-credit subsidies to help pay the premiums.

The Congressional Budget Office and Joint Tax Committee estimated that approximately 7 million adults and dependent children would get the COBRA subsidy in 2009. The Treasury Department is compiling data about how many workers received the subsidy, but a count of the people benefiting from the subsidy is not yet available; the Families USA report was based on Labor Department and Health and Human Services Department data.