As we celebrated the 11th anniversary of the Affordable Care Act last month, we have a lot more to celebrate than we did just a year ago. Thanks to the American Rescue Plan (ARP), we’re getting closer to making sure everyone has access to quality affordable healthcare thanks to improvements to affordability and access in the rescue package.
The ARP’s expansions of premium subsidies, Medicaid funding, and health coverage for unemployed people demonstrate what we can do when we build on our successes.
It’s been just a year since the pandemic crisis took over our lives and our economy. Now a return to normalcy is in sight thanks to aggressive action by the federal government to get COVID under control and get the country on track. President Biden promised to increase access to testing and vaccines, to expand healthcare and provide much needed economic relief for business, families and workers who desperately need it. Last month, he signed the ARP, which did all these things and laid the groundwork for an economic recovery over the coming months.
COVID has wreaked havoc on many, but despite this ordeal, it taught us some important lessons about how to be prepared for the next crisis. Guaranteed access to quality, affordable health care for everyone must be in place as a first line of defense in an epidemic, natural disaster, terrorist attack or national security breach.
Even with its limitations, the ACA proved its value during the pandemic by covering more people and providing critical protections against discrimination based on pre-existing conditions. The ACA ensured that people couldn’t be denied coverage or charged more because they had COVID or other pre-existing conditions.
The ACA was a critical source of coverage for millions of people who had lost jobs and healthcare over the last year. In Iowa, 54,586 people enrolled in private individual market plans through Iowa’s exchange during the open enrollment period for 2020 coverage. That was an increase of nearly 11 percent over the prior year; only Mississippi had a larger year-over-year increase in enrollment. Many others were able to be covered under Medicaid. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, between March of 2020 to December 2020, Iowa saw a Medicaid enrollment increase of 13.4%.
The American Rescue Plan has provided improvements to ACA affordability subsidies, enabling millions more to get coverage. It expands premium tax credits to eliminate all costs for very low-income people and, for the first time, will provide help for people whose income made them ineligible in the past. For example, in Iowa, a person making $55,000 annually could save $720 monthly on premiums, making coverage affordable to so many.
Beyond COVID, the ACA will provide continued access to vaccinations under its no-cost preventive care provisions. For people who may not have been infected but are struggling with addiction and mental health issues that are surging, the law ensures that treatment for these conditions is covered. The law also ensures that women, who have been disproportionately impacted by this pandemic crisis and forced to leave the workforce in droves, can get affordable coverage without discrimination based on gender--which was common before the ACA.
It should not have taken a public health crisis to make ACA coverage more affordable, but since it did, lawmakers need to make the improvements permanent so everyone will have healthcare--because we are going to continue to need it.
This past year has taught us that the best way to protect everyone is to ensure that every person has access to quality affordable healthcare. When everyone has access to healthcare, we can all do our part to keep each other safe and take care of our families.
Sue Dinsdale is the director of Iowa Citizen Action Network and leads the Health Care For America NOW campaign in Iowa.