Pa. Reps. Wild, Houlahan push for reopening of Obamacare exchanges during pandemic

Image by Kevin Simmons for Flickr Commons

Two Pennsylvania lawmakers have added their voices to a growing chorus of congressional Democrats who are calling on the Trump administration to reopen the Affordable Care Act’s online marketplace so that uninsured Americans can get access to coverage during the COVID-19 pandemic.

I strongly believe every American should have the right to quality and affordable healthcare, that has never been more true,” U.S. Rep. Susan Wild, D-7th District, said in a conference call with journalists on Wednesday. “To me, it’s not about politics, it’s abut implementing commonsense solutions that provide help to people who need it right now.”

The Trump White House has so far resisted calls to reopen the marketplaces. Experts have said the Republican administration’s hostility to former President Barack Obama’s signature legislative accomplishment is an obstacle to coverage to millions of uninsured Americans, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.

Wild, who was joined on the call by U.S. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, D-6th District, said she’s sponsoring legislation with U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., that would require the exchanges to reopen any time there’s a public health emergency declaration, as is the case with the pandemic. The bill remains in park in the Senate.

As it’s currently written, the bill would, according to Wild’s office:

  • “Establish a special enrollment period of at least 30 days, open to anyone who wants to enroll and can be extended at the Secretary’s discretion;
  • “Ensure that patients can get prevention, diagnostics and treatment comparable to what they might expect for similar services outside of a public health emergency; and
  • “Waive restrictions and limitations on access to covered benefits, such as prior authorization requirements and limitations on filling or refilling prescription drugs, when the services are determined to be medically necessary by the patient’s health care provider and such restrictions are determined to be unduly burdensome by the Secretary.”

Wild’s Lehigh Valley-based district is among the state’s hardest hit by the pandemic. As of midday Tuesday, there were 2,979 confirmed cases, and 48 confirmed fatalities, spread across Lehigh and Northampton counties, which comprise the heart of the district.

Houlahan’s 6th District seat, which lies about 40 minutes west of Philadelphia, includes the cities of Chester and Reading, where residents who live in close proximity to each other are at increased risk for contracting the illness.

The [Affordable Care Act] is one of our most crucial tools in mitigating the spread of the virus,” Houlahan said.

Asked which populations she hoped to target by getting the exchanges reopened, Wild pointed to young adults who have purchased plans with high deductibles, with the expectation that they would only need to use them in instances when they might require catastrophic care.

A while ago, individual mandates were taken away,” Wild said, referring to a federal appellate court decision last December that got rid of a key provision in the law requiring people to carry insurance or pay a penalty. “There are more and more people who are uninsured, young people who may have gambled – but we now recognize that COVID-19 hits people at all ages.”

According to the AP, the White House has not put much effort to inform people who have lost coverage that they are eligible for coverage through the Affordable Care Act. Those messages are prioritized on states that run their own exchanges.

Pennsylvania lawmakers authorized the creation of a state-run exchange last year, but it is not expected to begin operation until 2021, according to the PA Post.