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Increasing federal outreach and marketing to levels similar to those by California could result in 2.1 million Americans who lost their health insurance securing new affordable coverage
SACARMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today co-led a multistate letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and its Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) urging them to immediately develop and implement an outreach plan to inform the millions of Americans who have lost – or may lose – their employer-sponsored health insurance coverage about the Special Enrollment Period available to them through Healthcare.gov, the federal Exchange. In the letter, the attorneys general highlight the importance of providing families with the information and tools they need to navigate their healthcare options and access coverage during the unprecedented international healthcare crisis posed by COVID-19.
“Healthcare is not a luxury. Neither, sadly, is it a right in America. Not yet. COVID-19 has made that crystal clear, especially for millions of American families suddenly struggling against health and economic uncertainty,” said Attorney General Becerra. “The federal government has the tools to help under the Affordable Care Act. HHS and CMS can actively and immediately reach out to and inform Americans, especially those who have lost their jobs and insurance, that they can now apply for affordable healthcare coverage through the federal healthcare Exchange. We call on the federal government to act, this is no time for spectating.”
In the letter, the attorneys general highlight that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) provides the flexibility necessary to help people wrestling with the loss of their livelihood and their family’s healthcare coverage during this critical time. The ACA requires the HHS Secretary to provide yearly open enrollment periods on the Exchanges to permit individuals to enroll in new or different healthcare coverage. Outside of this period, individuals may enroll in coverage through the Exchange only if they qualify for a Special Enrollment Period due to certain life events such as loss of employment offering healthcare coverage. Informing individuals of the potential for replacing the coverage they have lost through Healthcare.gov is vital, as most Americans obtain their healthcare coverage through their employer. In 2018, over half of individuals under age 65 had insurance through an employer.
The importance of this outreach will only increase as the economic upheaval of this crisis continues to expand. A new study by the Health Management Associates estimates that the number of people receiving coverage from an employer could decline by up to 35 million due to layoffs caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. This same study estimates that the economic impact to the labor market could disproportionately impact the roughly 58 million non-elderly individuals who have employer-sponsored coverage and earn less than $50,000 per year. This heavily hit population could greatly benefit from navigating their options on the Exchanges where they may qualify for subsidies to help pay for healthcare coverage.
The coalition expresses concern that, without immediate and widespread outreach, Americans who have recently been laid off will remain unaware of the Special Enrollment Period and thus not access needed healthcare coverage. Evidence shows that marketplace advertising and consumer assistance increases enrollment numbers and stabilizes markets. For this reason, states that run their own Exchanges, like California, continue to invest heavily in marketing and outreach to support their state-based marketplaces. Yet, over the last few years, the Trump Administration has actively cut marketplace advertising and consumer assistance. HHS, as the operator of Healthcare.gov, must step in to get the word out to consumers in the 38 states that rely on the federal Exchange. HHS should also ensure that outreach materials are translated into the same range of languages as other HHS vital documents in order to ensure meaningful access to information about the Special Enrollment Period.
The attorneys general urge HHS to empower individuals and working families across the country to pursue the best coverage option for them, whether it is Exchange coverage, COBRA, Medicare, Medicaid, or the Children’s Health Insurance Program. While the federal government’s promise to reimburse for the testing and treatment of COVID-19 for the uninsured is a step in the right direction, it will not help provide these Americans the comprehensive healthcare they so desperately need and could leave many families with large hospital and insurance bills in the long-run.
Joining Attorney General Becerra in sending the letter are the attorneys general of Michigan, North Carolina, and Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and the District of Columbia.
A copy of the letter is available here.