Shoring Up Health Insurance During COVID: Legislative Watch

It’s possible that as many as 12 million Americans might have lost health insurance during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Economic Policy Institute, more than 6 million people have lost coverage provided by their employers. Job losses as well as job changes have contributed to this, and further trouble may be ahead if employers, suffering from revenue shortfalls, find they can no longer afford to cover premiums.

Medicaid has helped many of the unemployed regain coverage, a respite for them but a problem for states dealing with record budget deficits. An economic resurgence could help restore some balance, but it’s virtually impossible to predict how that will unfold.

Credit Karma, a consumer finance company, did an analysis of the situation for 20 million of its U.S. members and found a total of $45 billion in medical debt that was in collections. Medical issues were reported as a factor by two-thirds of Americans who filed for bankruptcy between 2013 and 2016.

Solutions and strategies do exist to help those who fall behind, but the best answer is to have at least some health insurance to prevent the worst economic impacts. Since August, dozens of bills have put forward proposals to help make this possible. Here are some examples:

SB15 in Louisiana requires public and elementary school systems to provide first-day health insurance coverage to employees if the system is located in an area subject to a disaster or emergency declared by the governor or president. The legislation also states that an emergency also must pose a risk to the health or well being of these employees and that risky activities are integral to the employee’s job.

New Jersey A4739 establishes guidelines relating to the allocation of health-care resources during a public health emergency, with an eye toward ensuring equity. It requires health-care facilities and professionals to ensure that patients are not denied care on the basis of factors including quality of life, age, race, national origin, gender identity or expression and health insurance status.

Missouri HB68 would allow persons filing state income tax returns to deduct 100 percent of health insurance premiums from their federal adjusted gross income, if this amount paid is included in their federal taxable income, as in cases where they pay for coverage themselves. Proof of such payments is required.

HB6003, a Utah bill, seeks to make it possible to increase premium subsidies for the state’s Premium Partnership Program, aimed at adults and children who do not currently have health insurance. The maximum subsidy per month would be increased to $300, and adults whose income is up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level would be eligible to receive subsidies.

Tennessee HB8012 makes changes in law related to electronic health care and coverage of such services. Existing law requires that insurance providers that provide coverage for a service must also cover it if delivered through telehealth. The bill would change the present provision that providers are not required to fully reimburse telehealth services if the cost is greater than if they are delivered in person, but provides that fees be established in accordance with the federal centers for Medicare and Medicaid services. Among other things, it creates guidelines for those who deliver such services.

HB5094 in Virginia establishes that insurers may not require prior authorization for the use of any drug used to treat COVID-19 under Emergency Use Authorization from the Food and Drug Administration. This would not apply to coverage under Medicare, short-term travel or accident-only policies.

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