WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) joined his Democratic colleagues in penning two letters to congressional leaders, urging them to prioritize workers and families who are losing health coverage as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic in future legislative packages to address COVID-19.
In the first letter, the Senators urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to make sure that any future coronavirus relief legislation includes strong measures to secure healthcare coverage for Americans who have lost their employer-based benefits – and those who are uninsured or underinsured – as a result of the pandemic. In the letter, the Senator 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 (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).
“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,” the Senators wrote in their first letter. “Americans cannot and should not have to wait for the healthcare services they need during this global pandemic that is unprecedented during our time.”
In the second letter, the Senators clarified specifics around the proposal for Congress to provide robust federal subsidies for programs like COBRA so that individuals who lose their job as a result of this pandemic can maintain their employer-sponsored health coverage. COBRA is an option for Americans who lose their jobs, or drop below the hours necessary to be eligible for employer-sponsored health coverage. COBRA allows people to keep the employer-sponsored coverage that they selected for up to 18 months. However, instead of having employers contribute to the premium costs, individuals are responsible for having to pay the full insurance premium themselves—an average of $1,700 a month for a family plan—which is often unaffordable for those newly unemployed. In today’s letter, the Senators called on Congress to craft a bill that provides a robust federal COBRA premium subsidy for individuals who would otherwise lose their employer-sponsored coverage as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Allowing families to maintain the coverage they previously selected will help ensure continuity of care and limit disruption for both families and employers as our economy gets back on track,” the Senators wrote in their second letter. “We stand ready and eager to work with you to ensure that the next COVID-19 relief package includes this important policy, which will ensure that millions of people losing their jobs as a result of this pandemic will not also suddenly become uninsured and at risk for catastrophic health care costs.”
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 healthcare 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.
A copy of the first letter, led by Sen. Warner, can be found here.
A copy of the second letter, led by Sen. Durbin, can be found here.