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Bill Debated To Extend Medicaid & COBRA Stimulus

June 15, 2010

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - President Obama is backing a bill before the Senate that would extend stimulus support for Medicaid and COBRA benefits, known as "The Extender Bill." Proponents of the measure worry that, without the extension, states like West Virginia could face more job cuts, and vulnerable people would lose medical care.

Renate Pore, health policy analyst with the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, says federal support has helped West Virginia to hold its budget together during the recession, and to avoid cutting people off.

"The Medicaid program serves the most vulnerable people in our state; children, the elderly and people with disabilities. If the state had to cut back services, that would be devastating."

Pore says stimulus money has been important for state budgets, and for the economy as a whole.

"Without the stimulus spending the country would just spiral downward further into recession. We're starting to come out of it and the federal stimulus money has had a lot to do with it."

Dr. Christopher Lillus is a private practice physician in Virginia. He says part of the bill would delay cuts to Medicare reimbursements for doctors. He sees the extension as a necessary, but temporary, fix.

"Cutting reimbursements from where they are now, is also rather untenable, because there will be a tremendous negative incentive for physicians to continue to see Medicare patients."

The Senate's version of the bill would delay a 21 percent cut in Medicare reimbursements for 19 months. Opponents of the measure cite cost concerns. That portion of the bill has a price tag of about $24 billion, but it would be paid for by closing a tax loophole for the oil industry.

Another part of the bill would extend COBRA payments for workers though November, with a price tag of about $7 billion. COBRA allows laid-off workers to keep their insurance, customarily at their own expense, and in response to the economic crisis the federal government had been picking up part of that cost. The extension is designed to keep those payments from being cut off.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV