Pa. residents will see expanded healthcare through the American Rescue Plan. Here’s how | Opinion

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By Antoinette Kraus

Today, March 23, marks the eleventh anniversary of the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the landmark law that expanded health coverage and established protections for Pennsylvanians who have a pre-existing condition.

Thanks to the ACA, millions of people who contracted COVID-19 over the last year and may have lingering symptoms cannot be denied coverage or services and will have access to quality, affordable healthcare to receive the treatment they need in the future.

The ACA has also been a lifeline for Pennsylvanians who have lost their livelihoods during the COVID-19 pandemic, ensuring that they still have access to health coverage, either through Pennsylvania’s expanded Medicaid program, which now serves over 927,000 Pennsylvanians, or through our new state-operated health insurance marketplace, Pennie, which saw enrollment rise to 338,000.

But, health coverage remained too expensive for many, even as the pandemic continued into its second year.

Fittingly, President Joe Biden has just signed the American Rescue Plan into law, which, among other critical steps to get the pandemic under control, represents the boldest expansion of health care in a decade that will lower health care costs and expand access to coverage.

The American Rescue Plan will mean lower health insurance premiums through Pennie, putting money back in the hands of Pennsylvania families and ensuring that they will pay no more than 8.5 percent of their income for monthly health insurance premiums. In some cases, monthly premiums will be eliminated completely.

Here are some examples of just how significant these cost savings will be.

For a married couple in Dauphin County who are both 64 years old with an income of $77,000, their monthly payment would go from $2,400 a month to only $550 a month, saving them an astounding $22,949 a year.

For a family of 4 in Potter County with an annual income of $52,400, their monthly payment would go from $285 a month to $87 a month, saving them over $2,376 a year.

In the coming weeks, Pennsylvanians insured through a Pennie plan or considering one will be able to go to pennie.com and see what the new law will mean for them.

The American Rescue Plan goes further to eliminate the cost of health insurance for people who are receiving unemployment after losing their income due to the pandemic.

For those whose income has fluctuated during the pandemic — like small business owners or restaurant workers —  it means they won’t have to pay back their premiums as part of their income taxes. It also will subsidize 100 percent of premiums for COBRA coverage for people who have lost job-based coverage this year.

Since the start of the pandemic, more than 2.5 million Pennsylvanians have filed for unemployment, meaning many have also lost health coverage.

Other states – especially those that have not expanded Medicaid –  have grappled with hospital closures and rising numbers of uninsured during the pandemic, but Medicaid has been a critical tool for keeping Pennsylvanians covered and keeping hospitals afloat. In fact, enrollment in Medicaid has grown to an all-time high of 3.2 million Pennsylvanians, an increase of 11 percent over this time last year.

The American Rescue Plan will also bring more than $13.7 billion to Pennsylvania in aid to state and local governments, a critical influx that will mean the state will be able to invest further in critical safety net programs like Medicaid.

After 11 years of partisan politics and attempts to repeal the ACA, Congress has finally taken action to improve upon the law and make healthcare more affordable for many. The American Rescue Plan is a much-needed respite for Pennsylvania families struggling through the pandemic.

While these provisions are critical in response to our current crisis, they are currently temporary.  We must not only make these provisions permanent, we must go further than that.

A recent study showed that 1 in 2 Pennsylvanians struggled to afford healthcare in the past year and 3 in 4 are worried about affording healthcare in the future.

We need to address this crisis by expanding coverage and affordability, lowering drug prices, strengthening Medicaid and Medicare and guaranteeing everyone in America equitable access to the quality, affordable healthcare they need.

Antoinette Kraus is the executive director of the Pennsylvania Health Access Network, a Philadelphia-based advocacy orgranization working to expand and protect access to high-quality, equitable, affordable healthcare for all Pennsylvanians.