BCBSA to Congress: Bring back COBRA subsidies

The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association headquarters building
The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association has issued several asks for the next wave of COVID-19 legislation. ( Jonathan Weiss/Shutterstock)

The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) has outlined its list of demands for Congress’ next package targeting the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Justine Handelman, senior vice president of policy and representation at BCBSA, told reporters during a briefing Thursday that the key goal behind the association's policy proposals is simple: maintaining coverage as much as possible. 

“Our recommendations are rightly focused on keeping people covered,” Handelman said. 

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The group’s policy suggestions include: 

  • Offer financial assistance to employers seeking to maintain coverage for workers.

  • Provide subsidies to support access to COBRA coverage for people who’ve lost their jobs. 

  • Open a national special enrollment period on Healthcare.gov. 

  • Expand tax credits for Affordable Care Act (ACA) plans. 

  • Eliminate surprise medical billing through a national benchmark model. 

Handelman said most states that operate their own ACA exchanges have either opened new enrollment periods or extended existing ones. The federal government should follow suit, making it easier for people to enroll in individual market coverage if they need it. 

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She added that subsidies for COBRA benefits were made available during the 2008 recession, a tactic that paid off. As such, it makes sense to take similar steps as unemployment due to the pandemic continues to grow. 

“We do believe COBRA is the best way to ensure people can keep their existing coverage without disruption,” Handelman said. 

Recent data have warned that the pandemic could significantly drive up premiums on the exchanges. Handelman said it is too early to tell whether these efforts would prevent that in full, but she said it’s likely a good place to start.