June 16, 2020

Udall, Heinrich Press for Expanded Access to Affordable Health Care in Upcoming COVID-19 Legislation

In a letter to congressional leadership, NM Senators join call for bipartisan effort to boost federal Medicaid dollars and reduce premiums

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) joined 35 of their Senate colleagues to urge House and Senate leaders to ensure that any upcoming COVID-19 relief bill includes strong provisions to expand access to quality and affordable health care coverage in the wake of the coronavirus public health crisis. In their letter, the senators called for a bipartisan effort to increase the federal government spending on Medicaid to reduce the burden on state budgets as well as reduce premiums for individuals who are eligible for coverage in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) exchanges. 

New Mexico recently reported a Medicaid enrollment increase of approximately 10,000 individuals during the month of May for a total enrollment of nearly 900,000 people (close to 40% of the state’s total population). The economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic have increased unemployment nationwide, likely adding to the number of Medicaid enrollees. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has had an extraordinary impact on every facet of our society and resulted in tremendous job loss, financial uncertainty and reduced access to health care coverage at a time when Americans can least afford it,” wrote the senators. “We strongly believe that an unprecedented global health crisis of this nature deserves equally unprecedented action from Congress to ensure that Americans have continued access to the health care services they need.” 

“We strongly encourage Republicans and Democrats to work together to build upon efforts in the HEROES Act by further enhancing the Medicaid federal medical assistance percentages (FMAP) to ensure continued and comprehensive coverage for enrollees, sustain Medicaid programs in states that have expanded their program, incentivize additional states to expand their Medicaid programs and provide payment to states that have already expanded their Medicaid programs, but have not received their full share of enhanced payments in the past,” they continued. “Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, an estimated 2.3 million Americans were without health care coverage because their states had not expanded Medicaid – a number that is sure to grow in the coming months. Targeting additional funding to the Medicaid expansion population could ensure health care insurance for millions of additional Americans that might otherwise not have access to it.”

In their letter, the Senators also called for House and Senate leaders to secure provisions that reduce premium payments for individuals who are eligible for coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) exchanges – a move that would help middle-income Americans find a quality insurance plan on the exchange and increase health care enrollment by more than 1 million Americans, according to the Commonwealth Fund. 

New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and New Mexico Superintendent of Insurance Russell Toal have acted decisively to assist New Mexicans who may have lost their jobs or income during the pandemic and need to maintain health care coverage for themselves and their families. New Mexicans can visit https://www.bewellnm.com/qualify-for-coverage to see if they are eligible for coverage through Medicaid, the ACA marketplace or the New Mexico Medical Insurance Pool (NMMIP). 

The letter follows the May 15th House passage of the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, which creates critical pathways to health care coverage by ensuring newly unemployed Americans can remain in their previously elected employer-sponsored plans, and strengthens states’ ability to provide Medicaid coverage and other key provisions. Udall and Heinrich previously called for many of the provisions included in the Heroes Act, and are renewing their call to ensure Americans can access critical health coverage. 

Joining Udall and Heinrich were Senators Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.), Michael F. Bennet (D-Colo.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Jeffrey A. Merkley (D-Ore.), Margaret Wood Hassan (D-N.H.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Christopher S. Murphy (D-Conn.),  Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Angus S. King, Jr. (I-Maine), Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Robert P. Casey, Jr. (D-Pa.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Wisc.), Cory A. Booker (D-N.Y.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Joe Manchin III (D-W.V.), Gary C. Peters (D-Mich.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii). 

A copy of the letter is available here and below:

Dear Leader McConnell, Speaker Pelosi, Leader Schumer and Leader McCarthy:

We write to reiterate the importance of ensuring that any future COVID-19 related legislation passed by Congress include strong provisions to ensure Americans have access to quality and affordable health care coverage. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has had an extraordinary impact on every facet of our society and resulted in tremendous job loss, financial uncertainty and reduced access to health care coverage at a time when Americans can least afford it. A recent report estimates that nearly 27 million people have lost their employer-sponsored health care insurance and have to find another way to get health insurance due to their job loss. This is an astounding number on its own and is even more concerning given an additional 27 million Americans were already uninsured before the COVID-19 pandemic .

We strongly believe that an unprecedented global health crisis of this nature deserves equally unprecedented action from Congress to ensure that Americans have continued access to the health care services they need. 

On Friday, May 15, 2020, the U.S. House of Representatives took an important step by passing H.R. 6800, the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act. This legislation creates critical pathways to health care coverage by providing premium reimbursement to help newly unemployed Americans continue coverage in their previously elected employer-sponsored plans. In addition, the legislation provides critical support to state Medicaid programs to ensure states can afford to cover additional individuals. We welcome these significant and much needed provisions, and hope there will be bipartisan work done to ensure that millions of additional Americans will be provided with a pathway to health care coverage. 

We strongly encourage Republicans and Democrats to work together to build upon efforts in the HEROES Act by further enhancing the Medicaid federal medical assistance percentages (FMAP) to ensure continued and comprehensive coverage for enrollees, sustain Medicaid programs in states that have expanded their program, incentivize additional states to expand their Medicaid programs and provide payment to states that have already expanded their Medicaid programs, but have not received their full share of enhanced payments in the past. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, an estimated 2.3 million Americans were without health care coverage because their states had not expanded Medicaid – a number that is sure to grow in the coming months. Targeting additional funding to the Medicaid expansion population could ensure health care insurance for millions of additional Americans that might otherwise not have access to it. 

In addition, we ask that you add provisions to reduce premium payments for Americans eligible for coverage in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) exchanges. As you know, current law caps ACA advance premium tax credits (APTCs) at approximately 10 percent of household income for individuals earning up to 400 percent of the federal poverty line (FPL). Removing this cap and increasing subsidies will help millions more middle-income Americans to find a comprehensive and affordable plan on the health care exchange. A 2017 study found that improving the ACA’s premium assistance payments could increase health care enrollment by more than 1 million Americans.  It will also be important to bolster support from APTCs for working families and individuals who are already eligible, but will need more financial support for the cost of coverage during this public health and economic crisis.

As Americans traverse this extremely uncertain and unprecedented time – the last thing they should worry about is them or their family members going without health care coverage. We ask that you strongly consider the recommendations we have listed above and work with us to develop solutions that meet the true scope and scale of the public health emergency we face. Thank you for your consideration of this request and we look forward to working with you on these issues.

Sincerely,