This column was originally published in The Buffalo News on April 20, 2021. View it on The Buffalo News website here.
by Maria Alvarez, Executive Director, New York State Wide Senior Action Council and Nora OBrien-Suric, PhD, President, Health Foundation for Western & Central New York
We are relieved to see that last month’s passage of the American Rescue Plan Covid relief package has brought the Affordable Care Act to full strength after years of attacks and weakening. The ARP is a huge step forward in helping more people obtain quality, affordable health care.
New York State Wide Senior Action Council and the Health Foundation for Western & Central New York collaborate frequently with the goal of helping more New Yorkers gain access to the health care they need and deserve. That’s why we were so pleased to see the ARP’s potential for far-reaching impact on health coverage.
How does the ARP help?
The ARP makes ACA marketplace coverage more affordable by eliminating the cap on eligibility for premium subsidies and by increasing the size of the subsidies. This will go far to address the “subsidy cliff” of unaffordable premiums that has prevented so many people from obtaining coverage previously.
Reaching the eligible but uninsured is a key part of closing the gap in health coverage. Because open enrollment for the ACA has been extended until Aug. 15, those who are eligible but unenrolled will have more time to sign up. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimated in 2020 that a majority of the 29 million uninsured people in the U.S. already qualify for either ACA subsidies or Medicaid but have not enrolled.
Millions of people who lost insurance during the pandemic will also get new help. Under the ARP, a person receiving unemployment compensation who qualifies for ACA coverage can get a silver plan with a $0 premium.
For laid off workers who want to keep their employer-sponsored coverage, the ARP provides subsidies that pay for 100% of COBRA, or Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, coverage through Sept. 30, 2021.
The ARP also provides states with increased Medicaid funding to expand optional services that are more in demand during the pandemic. Those include Home and Community Based Services for people with disabilities and aging people, extended postpartum care for new moms, and community-based mobile crisis intervention services for people with mental illness or substance use disorders.
Other relief measures in the package include expanding access to Covid testing, vaccines and treatments, cracking down on prescription drug price-gouging in Medicaid and addressing health disparities.
We applaud Sens. Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Brian Higgins for voting to pass the ARP. In a pandemic that has overwhelmed families, businesses and the health care system, they put constituents’ needs first and we hope they will continue to put them first as they work on the Build Back Better plan.