President Obama pressed Congress to extend COBRA subsidies on Tuesday, as the Senate considers a House measure that drops the health insurance assistance. Shortly before Obama made his comments during a town hall question and answer session, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters that the COBRA subsidy would not be in the Senate's version, either.
COBRA is a program that allows laid-off workers to continue to purchase their employer-provided health coverage. Without the 65 percent subsidy created by the stimulus, COBRA is often unaffordable, a reality Obama pointed to in pressing for the extension.
"We think it's important to sustain it for at least another six months, because there's still a lot of folks who are out of work. This is being debated in Congress right now. And so, Dennis," Obama told the questioner, "the answer is to make sure that Congress follows through on its commitment... and maintains COBRA until people are working at a higher rate."
Obama added that COBRA subsidies are not a long-term solution, but are required because the major provisions of health care reform have not kicked in.
If Congress fails to extend COBRA subsidies, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has vowed to return to the issue. Any worker laid off after June 1, unless the law is changed, is not eligible for COBRA subsidies, though workers laid off earlier can continue getting the subsidy.