Cortez Masto trying to put COBRA subsidies in relief legislation

U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto
U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto talks to a union member at the Culinary Workers Union Hall Local 226 in 2018. (Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Last week in collaboration with the Culinary Workers Union, Nevada Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto introduced legislation that aims to give laid-off or furloughed workers a way to stay on their health insurance plan at no extra cost to them through increased subsidies with the existing health insurance program COBRA.

In Nevada, an estimated 434,000 Nevadans have become uninsured due to job loss during the pandemic and Nevada’s top industries, including retail and hospitality, have been hit hardest by COVID-19.

“Now in the middle of a pandemic so many are getting furloughed and too many still need health insurance. We recognize that particularly in Nevada because our economy is based around the hospitality industry which has been so devastated. You can see the numbers, we have one of the highest unemployment rates in the entire country. It is important to continue to stand up for those workers,” Cortez Masto said.

Continuing health insurance through COBRA allows laid-off workers to keep buying into their health insurance plans, however, plans can be prohibitively expensive because laid-off workers are responsible for paying part of the insurance premium as well as their employer’s contribution — on average, $1,700 per month for a family.

Sponsored by Cortez Masto and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), the bill would expand COBRA to cover 100 percent of the cost of a person’s health insurance premiums, both for laid-off workers and furloughed ones. In the case of laid-off employees, these new COBRA subsidies would cover both the employee and employer portions of the premium costs. In the case of furloughed workers, the bill would just cover the cost of the employee’s premiums because the employer would continue to pay in as well.

“You’ve got to realize there are so many people who are on a health insurance plan who already contributed to it and don’t want to have to start all over again,” Cortez Masto said in an interview Thursday.

“Many of those workers have forgone pay raises in order to secure comprehensive health coverage packages and this COBRA subsidy ensures that those union workers can still access the health plans they fought and sacrificed for.” 

The bill is retroactive in that it would backfill the costs of people who’ve been paying for COBRA since they were laid off. It also would extend the period during which workers could elect COBRA coverage, and enable workers to access coverage even if they declined it before the subsidy was made available. The coverage would run through Jan. 31, 2021.

The bill was an ask from the Culinary Workers Union Local 226, who worked with the senator to craft the measure, according to her office.

“Thank you for fighting for our families everyday, Senator Cortez Masto,” said Geoconda Argüello-Kline, Secretary-Treasurer for the Culinary Union. “Working families depend on their health insurance during a global pandemic and the Worker Health Coverage Protection Act will ensure workers are able to get the care they need.”

Even with subsidies, however, the bill won’t cover everyone. Only workers who get insurance through their employer are eligible for COBRA, leaving out millions who have lost jobs nationally. 

There are no Republican co-sponsors of the expanded and subsidized COBRA coverage legislation. Cortez Masto said her goal is to put the bill in the next stimulus package as part of the negotiations, which have thus far been slow and unproductive.

“It just shows you the priorities that Mitch McConnell and the Republicans have to ram through a Supreme Court nominee in a short period of time but they won’t focus on a COVID-19 relief package that’s so needed across this country. It’s outrageous,” said Cortez Masto on the Senate’s failure to pass a bipartisan stimulus package.

Senate Democrats’ push for the bill comes as Republicans continue to attempt to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, which has increased access to health insurance to millions of Americans. On Thursday, a majority of Senate Republicans voted against a Democratic-led bill to block the Trump administration from supporting a lawsuit to overturn the Affordable Care Act in the Supreme Court. The motion failed on a vote 51-43; it required 60 votes to pass.

“Unfortunately what we see with the Republicans and this administration is in the middle of a pandemic they want to take away health care,” said Cortez Masto. “They don’t want to provide you coverage and support for your healthcare needs. That’s what you see playing out in the vote that happened today and the fact that this administration is still moving forward with a lawsuit in federal court to terminate the Affordable Care Act.”

Jeniffer Solis
Reporter | Jeniffer was born and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada where she attended the University of Nevada, Las Vegas before graduating in 2017 with a B.A in Journalism and Media Studies. While at UNLV she was a senior staff writer for the student newspaper, the UNLV Scarlet and Gray Free Press, and a news reporter for KUNV 91.5 FM, covering everything from the Route 91 shooting to UNLV housing. She has also contributed to the UNLV News Center and worked as a production engineer for several KUNV broadcasts before joining the Nevada Current. She’s an Aries.