The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) – which Congress passed earlier this year – included important changes to make health coverage affordable and accessible for more Americans. The law temporarily extended the financial assistance under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to include those with higher household incomes and reduced the amount individuals and families must contribute toward their monthly premiums – in many cases premiums were reduced to $0.
Due to these changes, nearly 70% of uninsured Latinos now qualify for a zero-dollar premium plan and 80% qualify for a low-premium plan. While the changes are temporary, Latinos’ need for affordable health coverage is not and by the end of 2022 this enhanced financial assistance will expire.
This comes at a time when we still see how the health and financial stability of the Latino community have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and the pandemic’s economic fallout. But Latinos— and Latino children, in particular—were facing hardships, like declining access to affordable health coverage, long before the pandemic swept the country.
The stubbornness of state leaders – particularly in Florida and Texas – has remained firm in refusing to expand Medicaid, even in the face of a national health crisis that has cost hundreds of thousands of lives and reduced the Latino life expectancy. In the 12 states that have not expanded their Medicaid programs, Latino families face serious obstacles to access health coverage. In fact, Latino children in these dozen states are 2.5 times more likely to be uninsured than in other states. Unfortunately, this makes news that the community is more than twice as likely to die or be hospitalized from COVID-19 than non-Hispanic whites unsurprising.
Relief is possible and there are two avenues for alleviating the disproportionate burdens Latinos face in accessing health care. First, we should permanently close the Medicaid coverage gap which leaves 2.2 million Americans—including more than 600,000 Latinos—with no viable pathway to affordable health insurance. And second, we need to extend the financial assistance that was included in the ARPA that helped to reduce private health insurance premiums.
Both are important policies. President Biden, in fact, has long supported these priorities, both during his campaign and in his American Families Plan proposed earlier this year.
Closing the coverage gap would simply carry out the original intent of the ACA by requiring Congress to remain steadfast in its commitment to cover more Americans. Expanding the ACA’s financial assistance (as ARPA did temporarily) was a key priority for many in Congress even before the pandemic and has only become more critical as a result.
The budget package that Congress is currently debating is the best and quickest means of delivering results on these priorities for Latinos. And that’s what we’re seeing unfold as our elected officials are currently considering an extension of the ARPA’s enhanced financial assistance and negotiating a Medicaid coverage gap fix that would include a means to cover Latinos immediately through private insurance and enrolling them in a federal Medicaid-like program in the long-term. Any coverage gap solution should be permanent and include the opportunity for those eligible to enroll in coverage whenever they need it, limit premiums and cost-sharing, and provide for adequate outreach to enroll the eligible uninsured.
It is impossible to finally address the longstanding inequities in our health system that led to such widespread suffering among the Latino community and fully recover from this pandemic without closing the Medicaid coverage gap and making health insurance more affordable for all Americans. We commend President Biden for making both policies central components of his Build Back Better agenda. Latinos showed up throughout the pandemic in frontline and essential jobs, putting themselves and their families at greater risk and suffering as a result. The community is now counting on Congress, working with the White House, to deliver results.