Cash-strapped states press Congress for more Medicaid help

The $8 billion COBRA provision was also taken out of the tax extenders bill that the House passed in May. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) raised hopes on Tuesday that Congress would tackle both the Medicaid payments and the COBRA subsidies when she told liberal bloggers that they were still priorities.

Michael Bird, senior federal affairs counsel for the National Conference of State Legislatures, said 15 states are awaiting action from Congress so they can finish writing their budgets for 2011. Fourteen of those states’ fiscal years start next month, while Michigan’s starts Oct. 1.

He said he’s hopeful that the measure will pass Congress as part of the tax extenders package since both chambers have already passed the Medicaid extension at one time or another — the Senate once and the House twice. In each case, the extension was considered emergency spending and was not offset by tax increases or cuts to other programs.

Bird added that state officials are now talking directly to their congressional delegations and explaining to them what the looming cuts would mean to their constituents.

“It’s 'all hands on deck' right now,” Bird said. “I don’t see any other vehicle before the election that can handle this.”