End date looms for federal health coverage for millions of thousands of Georgians

There is a growing cry for Congress to continue pandemic-era health insurance initiatives, including enhanced subsidies that have been credited with helping to boost enrollment in the federal marketplace nationally and here in Georgia.

The most generous tax credits were included in the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act that passed last springhelping to lower health insurance premiums during the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than 700,000 Georgians had signed up or re-enrolled in Affordable Care Act plans during the enrollment period that ended in mid-January. That was a 36% increase from the prior year.

But the expanded subsidies are set to expire at the end of the year, threatening marketplace coverage for potentially 142,000 Georgians, according to an estimate from the US Department of Health and Human Services. For others, letting the aid lapse would mean higher premiums.

This could also happen as the federal public health emergency is lifted, when upwards of 245,000 children and adults could also lose Medicaid coverage that was guaranteed during the pandemic through a continuous coverage rule. The federal emergency declaration could end as soon as October.

That’s why advocates are calling on Congress to permanently extend the enhanced subsidies and revive an effort to create a federal workaround program for low-income people in states like Georgia that have not expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.

“Time is really short here, and this is an important issue. Ten years ago, we made a bad decision in Georgia, and we continue to make it,” said Staci Fox, president and CEO of the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, referring to Georgia’s top leaders rejecting Medicaid expansion.

“These pandemic-era policies have really stepped in to close this gap and help protect Georgians, and you know these are thousands of veterans and working parents and frontline workers and entrepreneurs who get their health insurance through the marketplace,” Fox said.

Representatives from GBPI, which is a left-leaning think tank, and the patient advocacy group Georgians for a Health Future held a press conference Wednesday to urge congressional leaders to pursue the health care initiatives through the budget reconciliation process.

An earlier attempt to pass President Joe Biden’s social spending and climate package through the budget reconciliation process, which included a proposed federal Medicaid workaround, has largely stalled.

“Congress must focus on a package that includes a continuation of the American Rescue Plan enhanced premium tax credits, and it’s imperative that a coverage gap fix be attached to that,” said Knetta Adkins, organizing manager with Georgians for a Healthy Future.

“Under the current law, these provisions will sunset in 2023 if they are not expanded, resulting in higher out-of-pocket costs for enrollees and an increase in the number of uninsured,” she said.

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