Latest Morning Briefing Stories
Some states that opened special enrollment periods for worker who lost their jobs because of the pandemic, but those sessions are coming to an end, and industry officials fear that only a small fraction of people who need coverage even know where to look. In other industry and costs news: federal aid for hospitals, plummeting profits, and medical bills.
Although people could already sign up for coverage if they had an unexpected life event, California specifically created a special enrollment period to make it easier. In other health industry and insurer news: MLR rebates, accountable care organizations, and Medicare payments.
But the policy change doesn’t require employers to offer these options; they must opt in if they want to give their employees added flexibility. In other insurance and cost news: hospital lobbyists seek higher COBRA subsidies from Congress, UnitedHealthcare to have bigger footprint in ACA marketplace, how Medicaid and ACA subsidies could help recently laid off workers, and more.
There are still 14 states that still haven’t expanded Medicaid, but two–Oklahoma and Missouri–will likely have ballot initiatives go in front of voters this year. Advocates hope the outbreak will nudge anyone on the fence toward supporting the expansion.
Manufacturing workers in Hazleton were exempted from Pennsylvania’s stay-at-home order. And then they started getting sick. In other news on the economic toll of the outbreak: recovery is likely to be long and bumpy; why stimulus funds were sent to dead Americans; kids who are U.S. citizens with undocumented parents struggle to get help; and more.
As states struggle not to collapse beneath the economic burden of the pandemic, they’re eyeing their Medicaid programs — often the largest budget item for a state — as a way to stanch the bleeding. Meanwhile, states are also asking Congress for help to cover astronomical unemployment claims.
Proposals for government-sponsored health care and universal basic income carry are more compelling during a pandemic that has devastated the economy and led to millions of job losses than they did when the country was thriving. But on Capitol Hill, progressives might be shouldered out of relief package negotiations.
An estimated 1.5 million undocumented Californians remain uninsured, and advocates worry that the group will be hit hard by financial setbacks during the pandemic. In other health care costs news: free clinics try to fill gaps and what to do if insurers bill you for testing.
Black Americans are being hit disproportionately hard by the pandemic, and some in Georgia see the states decision to reopen as potentially devastating. “For black folks, it’s like a setup: Are you trying to kill us?” said Demetrius Young, a city commissioner in Albany, the center of the state’s epidemic.
Laid-off workers need money quickly so that they can continue to pay rent and credit card bills and buy groceries. But delays in benefits mean they’re going longer and longer without help. That in turn means the hole the economy has fallen into is getting “deeper and deeper, and more difficult to crawl out of.” Meanwhile, the surge of unemployed workers adds extra stress on Medicaid.
HHS Secretary Alex Azar Azar declined to specify how much money would be allotted to help hospitals providing uncompensated care for COVID-19 cases. Meanwhile, CMS warns that COVID-19 treatment could cause Medicare reserves to run out and Medicaid waivers are approved to help deal with costs.
During President Donald Trump’s tenure, his administration has chipped away at the health law and attempted to make moves on transparency and drug costs. But his legacy might be expanded federal health spending that looks a lot like his political foes’ dreams. Meanwhile, Politico looks at what the president said he’d do and what he’s actually done during the pandemic.
The Trump administration seems to be doing little to let Americans know they can sign up for health insurance through the exchanges if they lost their jobs because of the pandemic. Meanwhile, some states take steps to help people get on Medicaid during this tumultuous time. But in states where the program hasn’t been extended, Americans are struggling.
The government has started to lower the number of detainees being held, but advocates and lawyers say that not enough is being done to protect the vulnerable population. “We don’t have any social distance within us,” said the detainee. “We are just living by the grace of God.” Meanwhile, states appeal to the Supreme Court justices to block Trump administration rules that penalize legal immigrants from seeking public benefits.
The stimulus bill includes $100 billion for the health care system to use to treat coronavirus patients, and the White House said hospitals that accept the grants will have to certify that they won’t try to collect more money than the patient would have otherwise owed if the medical attention had been provided in network. Meanwhile, lawmakers may use the next stimulus package to help address the broader issue of surprise medical bills. News outlets report on other insurance coverage and Medicaid developments, as well.
Advocates are calling for the Trump administration to ramp up spending on outreach to make sure Americans who have been laid off during the crisis know there’s an option out there for them. The administration instead seems to be focused on a plan to tap hospital stimulus funds to pay people’s bills if they get coronavirus and need treatment
Data on race and the impact of COVID-19 is too limited so far to draw conclusions, experts say. But disparate rates of sickness and death is emerging in many African-American and Latino communities. “We cannot have a colorblind policy,” Stephen Thomas, director of the University of Maryland’s Center for Health Equity tells Politico. “With a colorblind policy — ‘Hey, we’re all in this together’ — we’ll be left with an explosion of Covid-19 concentrated in racial and ethnic minority communities.”
As unemployment surges, Medicaid will likely see a reflective wave of new enrollees. But hefty investments into the program will be needed to absorb those extra costs. “You definitely see in the data that as unemployment goes up, the Medicaid rolls go up,” said Josh Bivens, of the Economic Policy Institute. “That’s good, and it’s supposed to happen: It’s a safety net. But this is a quick enough shock that it could be a huge financial burden on Medicaid systems across the states.”
When President Donald Trump was asked what people should do who lose their jobs because of the outbreak and don’t qualify for Medicaid, he said, “I think it’s a very fair question . . . and it’s something that we’re really going to look at because it doesn’t seem fair.” Earlier in the week, administration officials said they would not launch a special enrollment session. Meanwhile, data released from last year’s health law enrollment for show about 11.4 million consumers signed-up for 2020 exchange coverage.
Facing the looming surge of coronavirus patients, some states have re-opened their marketplaces for residents to sign up for insurance coverage under the health law. Although the Trump administration considered following suit, it has decided to pursue other options.