April 17, 2020

Udall, Heinrich Push Senate and House Leadership to Expand Health Care Coverage for New Mexicans in Future COVID-19 Legislation

As millions of Americans and a record number of New Mexicans file for unemployment, senators urge leadership to expand access to affordable health insurance during COVID-19 pandemic

WASHINGTON—Today, U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) joined 36 fellow senators in a letter to Senate and House Republican leadership, requesting that any future emergency coronavirus legislation include strong provisions that protect and expand healthcare coverage for the millions of Americans and record number of New Mexicans who have filed for unemployment and recently lost employer-based healthcare coverage. In the letter, the senators urged congressional leadership to expand access to Medicaid, Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplace plans and provide financial assistance to the newly unemployed to help them maintain short term coverage through their employer plan.

“As you know, the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted the employment security, financial stability, and health care coverage of millions of American families,” wrote the Senators. “Congress has taken unprecedented steps to provide immediate relief to many of these families, but unfortunately – to date – Congress has not included significant coverage provisions in its legislative efforts to address COVID-19.”

“We are in the midst of a global pandemic and strongly believe Congress has an imperative and moral obligation to act as soon as possible to get immediate assistance to Americans without healthcare coverage,” they continued. “Americans cannot and should not have to wait for the healthcare services they need during this global pandemic that is unprecedented during our time.”

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 19,494 people in New Mexico applied for unemployment benefits last week, compared to a revised number of 26,132 the week before. With approximately half of all of Americans receiving their health care coverage from an employer, the COVID-19 crisis threatens to leave a vast number of individuals without health insurance during the largest public health crisis in a century, adding to the estimated 27 million people in the U.S. who do not currently have health care.

In the letter, the senators included the following initial recommendations that Congress should consider to ensure that Americans have access to health care coverage: 

  • Strengthen Medicaid: As unemployment increases, states will see an influx of individuals eligible for and in need of Medicaid coverage. Congress should provide states with additional Medicaid Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) support based on these unemployment rates for all Medicaid populations to help address this influx. In addition, Congress should provide late- and yet-to-expand states with additional supports and incentives to ensure states can appropriately cover the millions of people who lack coverage and expand coverage options where needed.
  • Re-open the ACA Marketplace and Provide Premium Relief to Enrollees: Congress should convey to the Administration the importance of using their existing authority to re-open the ACA health care exchanges to ensure that uninsured individuals can immediately enroll in health care coverage. Congress should also enhance assistance through the Advanced Premium Tax Credits (APTCs) to ensure more Americans can afford marketplace coverage. 
  • Provide COBRA Assistance to Individuals with Employer Sponsored Plans: Congress should provide premium reimbursement to newly unemployed Americans that may need to pay the entire premium cost of the employer sponsored healthcare coverage they previously elected in accordance with the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA).  

A copy of the letter can be found here and below.

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

We are writing to urge you to ensure that any upcoming legislation regarding the COVID-19 pandemic includes strong measures to secure continuity in health care coverage for Americans who have lost their employer based benefits and additional individuals who are otherwise uninsured or underinsured. As you know, the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted the employment security, financial stability, and health care coverage of millions of American families. Congress has taken unprecedented steps to provide immediate relief to many of these families, but unfortunately – to date – Congress has not included significant coverage provisions in its legislative efforts to address COVID-19.

According to the Department of Labor, 6.6 million Americans filed for unemployment in the week ending April 4 and the 6.8 million in the week prior to that[1]. This astounding number is even more concerning knowing that approximately half of all of Americans receive their health care coverage from an employer[2]. In addition to individuals that may be newly uninsured due to their employment status – there are an estimated 27 million additional Americans entirely without health care coverage[3] and an increasing number of underinsured Americans. The number of underinsured Americans could continue to grow as individuals are increasingly pushed into skimpier and more expensive plans that often do not provide the same strong consumer protections as plans on the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) health care exchanges. We are in the midst of a global pandemic and strongly believe Congress has an imperative and moral obligation to act as soon as possible to get immediate assistance to Americans without healthcare coverage. 

Below are our initial recommendations we believe Congress should consider to ensure Americans have access to health care coverage:

- Strengthen Medicaid: As unemployment increases, states will see an influx of individuals eligible for and in need of Medicaid coverage. Congress should provide states with additional Medicaid Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) support based on these unemployment rates for all Medicaid populations to help address this influx. In addition, Congress should provide late- and yet-to-expand states with additional supports and incentives to ensure states can appropriately cover the millions of people who lack coverage and expand coverage options where needed.

- Re-open the ACA Marketplace and Provide Premium Relief to Enrollees: Congress should convey to the Administration the importance of using their existing authority to re-open the ACA health care exchanges to ensure that uninsured individuals can immediately enroll in health care coverage. Congress should also enhance assistance through the Advanced Premium Tax Credits (APTCs) to ensure more Americans can afford marketplace coverage.

- Provide COBRA Assistance to Individuals with Employer Sponsored Plans: Congress should provide premium reimbursement to newly unemployed Americans that may need to pay the entire premium cost of the employer sponsored healthcare coverage they previously elected in accordance with the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA). 

In addition to the initial recommendations listed above we are ready and willing to work with you on additional policies that address this issue, but implore you to act quickly. Americans cannot and should not have to wait for the healthcare services they need during this global pandemic that is unprecedented during our time. Thank you for your attention to this request and we look forward to working with each of you on this critical issue moving forward. 

Sincerely,