July 16, 2020

New Op-ed: This One Weird Trick Will Keep Americans Healthy, Help Them Sleep Better, And Restore the Economy

Originally published by AM Greatness.

As Congress prepares another booster shot to help the economy deal with the pandemic, there’s one measure they should take up that’s good for the nation’s healthcare and good for the nation’s economy.

A temporary subsidy to pick up COBRA premium payments would ensure 30 million Americans continue their coverage with employer-provided health insurance.

COBRA allows workers and their families who lose their health insurance benefits due to layoffs to continue group health benefits provided by their employer for a limited period of time.

In the same way the Paycheck Protection Program kept people on private payrolls and saved them from going onto welfare rolls, COBRA would keep people on private insurance plans. This would save them from going onto the Medicaid rolls or into ACA marketplaces.

A temporary COBRA subsidy is good policy and good politics.

Policywise, consider this: Along with a surge in unemployment claims, the pandemic-related payoffs caused a 46 percent surge in Affordable Care Act enrollments and nearly one million new applicants for Medicaid.

States are already struggling with higher demands on their budgets. They cannot afford to pay for millions of new Medicaid beneficiaries. States already asking for federal help to cover budget deficits will certainly demand Washington cover their increased Medicaid costs. 

It makes more sense to give money directly to employers and employees through a COBRA subsidy and keep Americans off Medicaid.

The politics are good on many levels.

It’s been said, “no man who owns his own house and lot can be a communist.” Similarly, no one who has employer-provided health insurance will support Medicare for All.

A survey by Public Opinion Strategies found overwhelming support across the board for the financial relief legislation that’s already been passed.  

Eighty-six percent of Americans, including 87 percent of Republicans, 84 percent of independents, and 85 percent of Democrats, support the stimulus bills that have already passed.

A nearly identical number, 85 percent, believe more needs to be done, and a clear majority, 55 percent believe it should be targeted to middle and working-class Americans.

But here’s the eye-popping number to which Congress and our leaders need to pay attention: 90 percent of Americans—86 percent of Republicans, 87 percent of Independents and 94 percent of Democrats—believe the next stimulus should help those who’ve lost their jobs keep their employer-provided insurance.

That should come as no surprise—Americans like their employer-provided health-insurance. (There’s a reason President Obama assured everyone they could keep it).

A COBRA subsidy would allow people to maintain their existing employer-provided insurance if they’ve been laid off.  That means they can keep their doctors and their networks.

Importantly, they won’t have to pay a deductible all over again at exactly the time when they don’t have income. Nearly three-quarters of voters (74 percent) say losing their health coverage would impact their personal finances.

In this time of widespread disruption, people know it’s not the time to disrupt health insurance.

Continuity of health coverage is important to peace of mind, and peace of mind is essential to giving people the confidence they need to get back to work and resume their lives as schools, businesses, and society reopen.

Congress can go a long way to restoring our health, our economy, and our sanity with this one not-so-weird trick—the COBRA subsidy.  

That’s no click-bait—that’s a policy everyone can agree on.

Curtis Ellis is the senior policy advisor for America First Policies.

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