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Opinion: Lackadaisical health coverage response at federal level puts us all at prolonged risk with coronavirus

It should be stating the obvious that access to health insurance and health care is crucial to our ability to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, and we must ensure that cost is not a barrier to coverage or testing and treatment.

Unfortunately, this crisis is exposing gaps and challenges in our health care systems. Over 50% of Coloradans (and Americans overall) maintained health insurance through their employer prior to this crisis.

Adam Fox

Jobless claims have spiked to levels not seen since the Great Depression, with more than 30 million people newly unemployed in recent weeks. Here in Colorado, nearly a quarter of a million people are out of work. And far too often, losing one’s job also means losing one’s health insurance. 

Unlike during previous periods of deep job loss, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) ensures Americans can find coverage through the marketplace, regardless of whether they have a pre-existing condition.

And expanded Medicaid is critical for supporting people experiencing loss of income or employment. 

April 30 deadline
Coloradans who are uninsured can enroll in health insurance through ConnectForHealthCO.com through April 30. After that, they will need a qualifying event to be eligible for a 60-day special enrollment period to gain coverage. Coloradans that qualify can enroll in Health First Colorado/Medicaid at any time.

However, the Americans who were uninsured prior to this pandemic may not be eligible to participate in the ACA marketplace because they have not experienced a qualifying life event.

That’s why Connect for Health Colorado, our state-based marketplace, and Colorado’s Division of Insurance recently re-opened for a special enrollment period for all Coloradans through April 30 and has already seen over 10,000 enrollments, a clear indication of the need.

Especially during a public health crisis, barriers should not stand between any Coloradan and affordable health care. 

But 38 states have not re-opened their health care marketplaces because they rely on the federal Healthcare.gov. In a cruel political move, the Trump Administration has made it virtually impossible for the uninsured to get coverage during a global pandemic because they’re worried about undermining their lawsuit to strike down the ACA in its entirety through a case the U.S. Supreme Court will hear as soon as October.

While Colorado is doing what it can to make sure our people have access to health insurance when they need it most, this virus won’t stop at the Colorado state line or at the airport gate — we are only as safe as our neighbors.

If people in one area lack coverage and access to care, we are all at risk for a resurgence of this unpredictable and deadly virus.

Another problem is that many newly jobless Americans don’t know that they can get health insurance through the marketplaces because the Trump Administration has gutted marketing budgets to publicize options.

And now there’s the added complication of having to complete forms and the application process during physical distancing, which is a big barrier for people who don’t have access to the internet or a computer. 

Our leaders have a responsibility to ensure that Americans know their health care options and can access health insurance — all the more so during this public health crisis.

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

So far, the administration has made no meaningful attempts to publicize that now is a time when many people qualify for special enrollment. They should be using every means available to tell the American people to get potentially life saving health care coverage. 

But instead of shouting it from the rooftops, the Trump administration, Sen. Cory Gardner and our Republican members of Congress are still working to tear away health insurance from millions of Americans.

They have voted to repeal the ACA — the backstop for coverage in this crisis — countless times and they continue to support the Republican-manufactured effort to destroy the ACA in the courts. Now is not the time to tear down the health insurance that millions of Americans rely on.

We need our leaders, including Sen. Gardner, to push for open enrollment at a national level. We cannot afford another spike in coronavirus cases, risking everyone, especially our elderly population and people with pre-existing conditions.

Our leaders need to make sure people are aware of the coverage options available to them and to eliminate barriers that may hinder sign ups. 

In the midst of a pandemic and economic crisis, we must make it easier for people to access the health care that they need. Failure to do so will exacerbate the risks to health and safety of frontline workers, lead to preventable deaths, disproportionately harm communities of color and prolong the public health and economic crisis.


Adam Fox is the Director of Strategic Engagement for the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative. 


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