Sens. Tom Carper and Chris Coons, both D-Delaware, joined Sen. Mark R. Warner, D-Virginia, and 35 of their Senate colleagues on April 17 in pressing congressional leaders to make sure that any future coronavirus relief legislation includes strong measures to secure health care coverage for Americans in the wake of the novel coronavirus crisis.
In a letter, the senators urged Senate and House leaders to take steps to ensure that those who have lost their employer-based benefits — and those who are uninsured or underinsured — do not have to face this major public health crisis without access to health insurance.
“As you know, the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted the employment security, financial stability, and health care coverage of millions of American families,” wrote the senators. “Congress has taken unprecedented steps to provide immediate relief to many of these families, but unfortunately — to date — Congress has not included significant coverage provisions in its legislative efforts to address COVID-19.”
“We are in the midst of a global pandemic and strongly believe Congress has an imperative and moral obligation to act as soon as possible to get immediate assistance to Americans without healthcare coverage,” they continued. “Americans cannot and should not have to wait for the healthcare services they need during this global pandemic that is unprecedented during our time.”
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 6.6 million Americans filed for unemployment in the week ending April 4, and 6.8 million filed for unemployment in the week prior to that. With approximately half of all of Americans receiving their health care coverage from an employer, the COVID-19 crisis threatens to leave a vast number of individuals without health insurance during the largest public health crisis in a century, adding to the estimated 27 million people in the U.S. who do not currently have health care.
In the letter, the senators included the following initial recommendations that Congress should consider to ensure that Americans have access to health care coverage:
— Strengthen Medicaid: As unemployment increases, states will see an influx of individuals eligible for and in need of Medicaid coverage. Congress should provide states with additional Medicaid Federal Medical Assistance Percentage support based on these unemployment rates for all Medicaid populations to help address this influx. In addition, Congress should provide late- and yet-to-expand states with additional supports and incentives to ensure states can appropriately cover the millions of people who lack coverage and expand coverage options where needed.
— Reopen the ACA Marketplace and provide premium relief to enrollees: Congress should convey to the Trump administration the importance of using their existing authority to reopen the ACA health care exchanges to ensure that uninsured individuals can immediately enroll in health care coverage. Congress should also enhance assistance through the Advanced Premium Tax Credits to ensure more Americans can afford marketplace coverage.
— Provide COBRA assistance to individuals with employer-sponsored plans: Congress should provide premium reimbursement to newly unemployed Americans that may need to pay the entire premium cost of the employer sponsored healthcare coverage they previously elected in accordance with the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, or COBRA.
The full text of the letter is available at bit.ly/3ajFSB7.