As unemployment soars due to the Coronavirus pandemic, Gillibrand urges Congress to expand health care coverage in next COVID-19 relief package

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From the office of Senator Kirsten Gillibrand:

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand urged Congress to expand health care coverage for all Americans in the next phase of coronavirus relief legislation. Millions of Americans have lost their jobs – and their employer-based benefits – as the coronavirus pandemic has forced workplaces to close or limit services. Senator Gillibrand and her colleagues are urging congressional leadership to ensure that those who have lost employer-based benefits, as well as uninsured and underinsured Americans, will have access to health insurance throughout this public health crisis. 

“The outbreak of coronavirus has pushed millions of Americans into economic instability and financial hardship. The loss of health care in the midst of a public health crisis only adds to that distress,” said Senator Gillibrand.“Leaving millions uninsured during a pandemic is simply unconscionable; Congress has a moral and economic obligation to get immediate assistance to Americans without health care. I’m proud to join this fight with my Senate colleagues to ensure no American goes without critical health care services during this unprecedented time.”

According to the U.S. Department of Labor (DoL), more than 5.2 million Americans filed for unemployment in the week ending April 11. In the two weeks prior, 6.6 million and 6.8 million Americans filed for unemployment, respectively. 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 Americans who do not currently have health care. 

In the letter, the Senator Gillibrand and her colleagues recommended that Congress consider the following actions to ensure 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 (FMAP) 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.
  • Re-open the ACA Marketplace and Provide Premium Relief to Enrollees: Congress should convey to the Administration the importance of using their existing authority to re-open 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 (APTCs) 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 (COBRA).

Full text of the letter can be found here and below.

Dear Leader McConnell, Speaker Pelosi, Leader Schumer and Leader McCarthy:

We are writing to urge you to ensure that any upcoming legislation regarding the COVID-19 pandemic includes strong measures to secure continuity in health care coverage for Americans who have lost their employer based benefits and additional individuals who are otherwise uninsured or underinsured. As you know, the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted the employment security, financial stability, and health care coverage of millions of American families. 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. 

According to the Department of Labor, 6.6 million Americans filed for unemployment in the week ending April 4 and the 6.8 million in the week prior to that. This astounding number is even more concerning knowing that approximately half of all of Americans receive their health care coverage from an employer. In addition to individuals that may be newly uninsured due to their employment status – there are an estimated 27 million additional Americans entirely without health care coverage and an increasing number of underinsured Americans. The number of underinsured Americans could continue to grow as individuals are increasingly pushed into skimpier and more expensive plans that often do not provide the same strong consumer protections as plans on the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) health care exchanges. 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. 

Below are our initial recommendations we believe Congress should consider to ensure 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 (FMAP) 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.
  • Re-open the ACA Marketplace and Provide Premium Relief to Enrollees: Congress should convey to the Administration the importance of using their existing authority to re-open 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 (APTCs) 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 (COBRA).

In addition to the initial recommendations listed above we are ready and willing to work with you on additional policies that address this issue, but implore you to act quickly. Americans cannot and should not have to wait for the healthcare services they need during this global pandemic that is unprecedented during our time. Thank you for your attention to this request and we look forward to working with each of you on this critical issue moving forward.

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