As the nation continues to address the health threat posed by the coronavirus outbreak, ensuring that Americans maintain access to affordable health insurance and the security it provides is ever more critical.
With Congress working on additional steps to meet the twin challenges of the pandemic and the extraordinary economic distress that’s resulted from it, lawmakers must take immediate steps to bolster the coverage safety net. There are critical actions they should take in the next legislative package to address COVID-19.
Help people maintain and afford coverage
With the rapid economic downturn and surge in job losses, it’s vital to take steps to help people maintain and afford coverage. Congress should provide temporary subsidies or direct financial assistance to employers of all sizes that are seeking to maintain coverage for their employees.
Likewise, for those who purchase coverage in the individual market, lawmakers should ensure more affordable premiums by enhancing financial assistance and reducing the proportion of premiums individuals are required to contribute.
And, for those who have lost their employer-sponsored coverage due to being furloughed or terminated, Congress should temporarily subsidize COBRA premiums so they can keep their coverage—and continue to receive care from their current doctors, hospitals and other clinicians they know and are comfortable with.
Expand access to coverage for those who are uninsured
To give people who are without insurance the opportunity to obtain individual coverage, nearly every state that operates its own marketplace has already acted to create a Special Enrollment Period (SEP) or has extended an already available SEP. Congress should follow suit and implement a one-time SEP in the federally run individual marketplace. In order for a federal SEP to be effective, it must have an effective date that occurs in the future, must be limited to 30 days and be available to people broadly, not just those diagnosed with COVID-19.
Provide stability for consumers no matter where they get their coverage
No one yet knows what the full scale and scope – or the ultimate cost – of mitigating and treating the virus will be to the economy or to the strained healthcare system. While much non-urgent care has been postponed temporarily, the eventual resumption of routine care coupled with the need to continue providing COVID-related services, along with increasing financial pressure across all types of coverage, means lawmakers should step in to help minimize financial uncertainties. A temporary risk mitigation program for 2021 would act as a safety valve that protects stability in the event of catastrophic costs.
End Surprise Bills
Lawmakers have been working for months to end surprise bills and the current crisis underscores how urgent it is for them to act now to stop consumers from receiving these unexpected and often excessive bills. Congress should end balance billing and surprise bills once and for all as part of its next legislative package on COVID-19.
See our recommendations for how to end surprise bills without raising costs.
Read the joint AHIP-BCBSA recommendations for the next congressional COVID legislation.