Tuesday, July 13, 2010

ACTION ALERT: Help People Get and Keep Health Care During the Current "Great Recession"

It's hard to believe, but Congress is in a stalemate over a bill to keep helping everyday people who are suffering greatly during the current "Great Recession."  At risk is continuing unemployment benefits, affordable COBRA health insurance coverage, and Medicaid funding support for states.  The bill also contains provisions to support desperately-needed job creation, and whether or not to extend Bush-era tax cuts, credits, and subsidies and who should get them.

The Obama administration and Congressional leaders are pushing hard for a bill to keep support for vital health care safety net programs in place.  However, so-called "deficit hawks" (mostly Republicans, joined by a few Democrats) are keeping a vote from coming up on the Senate floor – it's the exact same political dynamic that we all saw played out during the health care reform debate last fall, winter, and spring.  Most observers believe that it's mere political and ideological gamesmanship, to help bolster themselves for this fall's midterm elections, and that true policy concerns and merits are secondary (at best.)

The good news is that both New York's Senators Schumer and Gillibrand are pushing for the right thing.  The "challenging news" is that over in the House of Representatives, one member of Congress from NYC, Rep. Michael McMahon (D-Staten Island/SW Brooklyn), has already voted against the bill, and that bill did NOT include continued funding for COBRA subsidies for the newly-unemployed, OR continued increased Medicaid funding for states. 

The current bill now stalled in the Senate DOES contain additional Medicaid funding, but NO funding for COBRA.  One of the key aspects of the new health care reform law is an expanded Medicaid program, expected to ramp up over the next few years.  Roughly one-half of all those eventually getting health coverage under the new law will get Medicaid coverage.  That effort will be gutted before it starts if current additional Medicaid funding for states is not continued.

COBRA and Medicaid are intricately linked in the context of the current Great Recession.  If unemployed workers lose their COBRA subsidies, they will become uninsured, placing a further strain on our already-overburdened safety net providers, and they will eventually end up on Medicaid, causing an even further strain on New York's already-overstrained state, county, and city budgets.  While there is a fair amount of political steam gathering in support of the Medicaid funding issue, thanks to Governors speaking out, that effort is penny-wise and pound-foolish without concurrently also addressing the COBRA subsidy issue.  BOTH issues must be addressed simultaneously, not one without the other.

What you can do:

1.       Call YOUR member of Congress (202-224-3121 or check www.house.gov) and demand that the government continue enhanced support for vital health care programs like COBRA and Medicaid.  While almost all NYC members of Congress are supporting such moves, it is important that they hear from New Yorkers how urgent this matter is, given how bad the economy is and how long a recovery is expected to take.  Since COBRA subsidies were left out of the original House bill this past spring, be sure to particularly mention it.

2.       Call Senators Schumer and Gillibrand (202-224-3121 or check www.senate.gov) and thank them for their efforts, and urge them to keep fighting, that the matter is urgent.  Also be sure to urge that COBRA subsidies be added into the bill the Senate is now crafting and debating.

Thanks for all you do in the fight for health care for all, here in NY and across America.

Mark Hannay

Metro New York Health Care for All Campaign
40 Worth Street, Suite 802
New York, NY  10013

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