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AG Shapiro Joins Letter Urging Federal Government to Increase Outreach About Healthcare Coverage Assistance During COVID-19

April 14, 2020 | Topic: Consumers

Increasing marketing and outreach could result in 2.1 million new enrollees and lower premiums for Pennsylvania consumers

HARRISBURG—Attorney General Shapiro today joined a multistate partnership led by California, Michigan, and North Carolina, in sending a 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 that they are eligible to obtain health insurance 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.

“Right now, Pennsylvanians are focused on keeping their families safe and healthy,” said Attorney General Shapiro. “I’m calling on Secretary Azar and Administrator Verma to do the right thing and help those wrestling with this pandemic obtain healthcare coverage on the federal exchange, so we can ensure the continued health and safety of our communities.”

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 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 by enrolling 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 35 million people could lose their employer-sponsored coverage 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 not know that they can enroll now and thus not access needed healthcare coverage. Evidence shows that marketplace advertising and consumer assistance increases enrollment numbers and stabilizes markets. 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–including Pennsylvania. 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 enrollment.

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.

In sending the letter, Attorney General Shapiro joined the attorneys general of  California, Michigan, North Carolina, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaiʻi, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington.

A copy of the letter is available here.

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