Today, U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D) and Culinary Union officials hailed the Senate’s passage of the American Rescue Plan during their virtual press conference to explain how this stimulus bill will benefit Nevada. More specifically, they zeroed in on Cortez Masto’s success in securing a provision to provide 100% subsidized COBRA health insurance coverage to qualifying unemployed and furloughed workers.
According to Cortez Masto, “The American Rescue Plan is going to be a lifeline to Nevadans. They can keep their health care and keep their health insurance plans.”
“My medications cost approximately $1,000 a month without insurance. I can’t afford $885 a month for COBRA benefits. I don’t know anyone who can.”
– Mario Sandoval, Culinary Union member and former Binion’s casino worker
As we discussed earlier, the American Rescue Plan will deliver some major stimulus benefits for Nevada as soon as the House approves the Senate’s amendments and hands the bill over to President Joe Biden for him to sign into law. While provisions like the $1,400+ “stimulus checks” are attracting the lion’s share of media attention, U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D) and Culinary Union leaders held a virtual press conference today to highlight another key provision of the Rescue Plan: 100% subsidized COBRA health insurance coverage for an estimated 2.2 million unemployed and furloughed workers that will be available through September 30.
Mario Sandoval is a Culinary Union shop steward and a long-time Binion’s food server who lost his work pay when the casinos began to shut down. As Sandoval recalled, “I personally walked the picket line in the 1990’s over health care. I have lived through these fights. I’m now living on unemployment. My daughter is helping me [with expenses], and I know it isn’t easy on her.”
Mario: I need Congress to make sure that COBRA benefits are 100% covered, especially because the crisis we are facing right now is due to a deadly disease…we absolutely need health insurance. #AmericanRescuePlan #100COBRA pic.twitter.com/qNprq7cbxf
— The Culinary Union (@Culinary226) March 9, 2021
Sandoval continued, “After that strike, I learned I had brain cancer. It’s a good thing that we went on strike for our health care.” Though he’s since recovered from that cancer, Sandoval noted, “My medications cost approximately $1,000 a month without insurance. I can’t afford $885 a month for COBRA benefits. I don’t know anyone who can.”
Sandoval added, “This is all due to a deadly disease that cost me my job and nearly cost me my health insurance.” He’s hoping that he’ll be one of those roughly 2.2 million Americans who will be able to utilize that 100% subsidized COBRA once it becomes available.
“This 100% COBRA coverage is fully needed for working families. It’s hard when you’re living on an unemployment check.”
– Geoconda Argüello-Kline, Culinary Union Secretary-Treasurer
With so much media focus on Las Vegas casinos and the tourists who used to fill them, it’s important to remember the workers who kept those casinos running. As Culinary Union Secretary-Treasurer Geoconda Argüello-Kline noted, “It’s been very difficult. COVID-19 has been very difficult for workers and their families. We lost 126 of our members. Over half of our members still haven’t returned to work.”
She then explained why this COBRA provision of the Rescue Plan is so important to so many of her union’s members: “After March 1, we had 36,000 members of the Culinary Union losing their health care. We could have had as many as many as 86,000 members losing their health care.”
When Rep. Steven Horsford (D-North Las Vegas) first floated the COBRA subsidy proposal last April, some health care policy experts and progressive activists questioned the wisdom of spending so many tax dollars to protect health insurance coverage for such a small slice of Americans. But for community leaders like Geoconda Argüello-Kline who’ve had to witness the “American Carnage” of our COVID-19 crisis firsthand, this provision and the overall bill are necessary to deliver help as soon as humanly possible: “They can not afford to pay health care right now. […] This 100% COBRA coverage is fully needed for working families. It’s hard when you’re living on an unemployment check.”
“When [workers] were furloughed, they had to pay enormous premiums to hold onto their coverage. […] They can now keep these plans, even after they’re laid off.”
– U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto
When the House passed its version of the Rescue Plan on February 27, that version only covered up to 85% of COBRA costs. Once it arrived in the Senate, Cortez Masto executed her plan of action: “I spent the last week negotiating with Senate leadership. I am so proud that we secured these benefits.” Now, as a result of Cortez Masto amending the bill, “When [workers] were furloughed, they had to pay enormous premiums to hold onto their coverage. […] They can now keep these plans, even after they’re laid off.”
In addition to the COBRA provision, the Rescue Plan includes $34 billion to lower insurance premiums through 2022 for patients who obtain their health insurance on the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or Obamacare) insurance exchanges and potentially provide coverage to as many as 2.6 million Americans who previously didn’t qualify for ACA subsidies. The Rescue Plan also includes $46 billion for COVID-19 public health programs (including enhanced vaccine distribution), and $350 billion in state and local government aid that will result in an additional $4.1 billion coming Nevada’s way – $2.9 billion for the state government, and the rest for municipalities.
For Cortez Masto, providing aid for state and local authorities was always another key priority: “They fund the essential workers we need more than ever now. State and local governments provide essential services. [Fewer tourists have] been coming to Las Vegas, so our state and local budgets have been suffering.” She then added that by providing more aid to state and local authorities, they’ll do a better job at delivering help where it’s most needed: “Our local governments have been really innovative in identifying local community needs and providing services to help.”
“This time, the bills need to move to the floor of the U.S. Senate so we can vote on them. It’s important for us to come up with solutions.”
– U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto
In the last 24 hours, Cortez Masto made a big announcement with her endorsement of filibuster reform, and more specifically something along the lines of a “talking filibuster” to prevent certain colleagues from misusing the Senate cloakroom for the sake of surreptitiously killing bills. In explaining why she reached this decision, Cortez Masto said, “At the end of the day, there is a mandate from so many across the country that we have to deliver for this country.”
Even though the American Rescue Plan includes plenty of dollars for programs like the 100% COBRA subsidy and two years’ worth of more generous ACA consumer subsidies, Democrats want to tackle additional health care policies, like a public option insurance plan, more permanent programs to keep patients’ health care costs down, and Medicaid FMAP reform to provide an automatic stabilizer for states and patients during future economic crises. Cortez Masto voiced hope today that once all her fellow Senate Democrats agree on a course of action to reform the filibuster, they will be able to pursue these policies alongside additional legislation that can make a difference in Americans’ lives.
Though Cortez Masto continued to encourage more bipartisan legislative action, just as she did in January, this time around she made clear that she and most of her Democratic colleagues are ready to change the filibuster rules in order to actually legislate. Or as Cortez Masto put it, “This time, the bills need to move to the floor of the U.S. Senate so we can vote on them. It’s important for us to come up with solutions.”
The cover photo is a screenshot taken by me.