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Senate panel approves mass transit tax break, some health premium subsidies


Employees would be able to make up to $250 a month in pretax contributions to pay for mass transit expenses through the end of 2015, while an expired but limited federal health premium subsidy would be restored as part of tax legislation approved last week by the Senate Finance Committee.

The higher mass transit contribution limit would be retroactive to Jan. 1, 2014. Since Jan. 1, the maximum contribution limit has been $130 a month.

The provision is included in a broader bill, the Expiring Provisions Improvement Reform and Efficiency Act of 2014. The measure, which passed on a voice vote, also would extend through the end of 2015 a now-expired federal health insurance premium subsidy. That subsidy, established under a 2002 law and previously renewed several times, paid 72.5% of health care premiums for eligible beneficiaries — people who have lost their jobs due to foreign competition and retirees at least age 55 whose pension plans have been taken over by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp.

Beneficiaries would be able to use the subsidy to offset the cost of a variety of health coverages, including COBRA continuation coverage.

The measure now goes to the full Senate, where passage is expected. The House has not yet acted.

The Obama administration has not yet taken a formal position on the measure. In 2009, though, it backed legislation — later approved by lawmakers — that temporarily established a 65% federal premium subsidy for COBRA coverage extended to laid-off workers.