Payers, other stakeholders urge Congress to blunt COVID-19-spurred insurance losses

By | September 23, 2020

Dive Brief:

  • A diverse set of stakeholders is urging lawmakers to push through measures that will help bolster health insurance as millions of people across the country have lost their jobs and risk losing their corresponding health coverage.   
  • Policy experts outlined a handful of short-term policies they want Congress to adopt, including increased federal funding for Medicaid, COBRA funding and special enrollment periods. 
  • “The odds are we are on track to having the greatest coverage losses we’ve ever recorded,” Stan Dorn, director of the National Center for Coverage Innovation and senior fellow at Families USA, said during a briefing Tuesday.

Dive Insight:

The definitive data on the effect the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent economic downturn has had on health insurance coverage for Americans won’t be released until next year, but the estimates are grim.

But taking into account various estimates, experts say that between 10 million and 30 million people have lost, or will lose, employer-based coverage by the end of the year. And between 3 million and 8.5 million will become uninsured.

“No matter where we wind up in those spectrums, those are dark spectrums. That is not a good place to be,” Dorn said. 

That’s why Dorn and stakeholders from the nation’s health insurance lobby, America’s Health Insurance Plans, NAACP, American Benefits Council and the Federation of American Hospitals voiced support for policy proposals that could ensure short-term relief for Americans across the country as the nation has experienced unprecedented job losses.  

These staggering insurance losses pose a real threat to individual health and finances and threaten to exacerbate the pandemic, experts said.

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People without coverage may forgo care — allowing the virus to silently spread — but also may contribute to a deterioration in their health.   

As people lose coverage, they are likely to turn to Medicaid or the Affordable Care Act marketplaces. But as state budgets are sapped, the greater enrollment, coupled with significant state deficits, will likely put a great strain on Medicaid programs. 

That’s why those on Tuesday’s briefing called for enhanced federal financial matching for Medicaid programs, beyond the previous bump included in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. 

To provide insight on Medicaid growth trends, Centene collected enrollment from 21 states that post the information online. John Kaelin, senior adviser for the nation’s largest Medicaid managed care organization showed that Medicaid enrollment in those states seems to be accelerating. 

Kaelin looked at the percentage change in enrollment in two ways: from February to June and from February to July. What he found was the percentage change in enrollment was higher in the latter comparison across all the states he monitored, indicating that enrollment seems to be accelerating.  

“We think that makes a compelling case for more federal help to the states so that they can keep people enrolled and provide them with health coverage,” Kaelin said.   

To help further ease the burden on state budgets, policy experts are also calling for Congress to provide COBRA subsidies to help families maintain their employer-sponsored coverage. 

“COBRA support is needed now,” Ilyse Schuman, senior vice president of health policy with the American Benefits Council, said.

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