CHN: Congress Enacts Legislation to Extend Medicare Premium Subsidies and Transitional Medicaid; Also Shores Up Unemployment Funds for Gulf States
Nearly a month after allowing the subsidy for Medicare Part B premiums for low-income seniors to expire, Congress enacted Public Law 109-91, which extends the program through September 2007. The Qualifying Individual program (QI) uses Medicaid funds to pay the Medicare Part B premiums of seniors with limited assets and incomes between 120 – 135 percent of the poverty line. The cost of the subsidy is $454 million through September 2007, offset by $114 million from higher premiums paid by all Medicare Part B beneficiaries.
The legislation also extends Transitional Medical Assistance (TMA), but only through December 31, 2005. TMA had also expired at the end of September, although most of the low-wage workers eligible for this assistance were able to continue medical coverage under another program for the month. TMA maintains Medicaid eligibility for families who leave TANF for work. CBO estimates its extension will cost $169 million during the period 2006-2015.
With huge numbers of unemployment insurance claims because of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, funds have started to run low enough in Louisiana and Mississippi to threaten a legally-mandated reduction in benefits for the unemployed starting as early as January. Even without the reduction, benefits in these two states are among the worst in the nation. Public Law 109-91 provides for the transfer of $500 million from federal unemployment trust funds to state funds in Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi. This sum appears to be inadequate to prevent Louisiana from having to reduce its maximum unemployment benefits from $258 to $221 a week. At a time when businesses need help with rebuilding, the shrinking unemployment trust fund reserves will also trigger an increase in the employer-paid UI tax. Mississippi’s law allows their trust fund to maintain a lower reserve, so its unemployed will not face reductions as quickly.
Public Law 109-91 also provides $12.5 million for abstinence education in the first quarter of FY 2006.