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Debate: Should the Government Preserve COVID-Era Breaks on Health Coverage?

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Under the public health emergency declaration that was put into place in response to COVID-19, many Americans became eligible for Medicaid for the first time. States have also been required to provide Medicaid coverage on a continuous basis for any individual who was enrolled as of March 18, 2020.

During that time, many qualifying individuals didn’t renew their coverage under state-level procedures. Once the public health emergency has ended, many others may no longer qualify for Medicaid coverage. 

In addition, enhanced premium tax credits enacted under the American Rescue Plan Act allowed many Americans to enroll in health coverage they could afford during the pandemic. With those credits expiring, it’s possible that many of those people may no longer be able to afford their health coverage.

The emergency has been extended through mid-July, and the Biden administration has said it will give 60 days’ notice before the emergency ends — meaning that the emergency could end as early as October.

We asked two professors and authors of ALM’s Tax Facts with opposing political viewpoints to share their opinions about whether the federal government should step in and take action to prevent the loss of health coverage once the COVID-19 public health emergency ends.

Below is a summary of the debate that ensued between the two professors.

Their Votes:

Bloink

Byrnes

Their Reasons:

Bloink: Millions of Americans are at risk of losing their health coverage when the public health emergency ends, which will probably happen later this year. That includes Americans who newly qualified for Medicaid coverage under liberalized rules put into place during the pandemic, as well as those who qualified for enhanced premium tax credits for Affordable Care Act marketplace coverage.

Now, it’s up to the federal government to take action and ensure a smooth transition away from the COVID-19 relief measures.

Byrnes: We’ve been providing an unprecedented amount of stimulus for over two years now. Enhanced benefits and eased restrictions were necessary at the height of the pandemic. Many of those relief measures are no longer needed —and some were implemented so haphazardly that Americans who didn’t really need the assistance benefited.

We should now be focused on more important issues, such as fighting inflation and soaring gas prices so that Americans can afford to put food on the table.

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Bloink: On the Medicaid front, states have a patchwork of different systems that could complicate matters. Many Americans moved during the pandemic and may not have updated their contact information, making it more difficult for Medicaid to renew their coverage.

The federal government must step in to ease this potential burden and give Americans more time to renew their coverage or search for affordable coverage without coverage gaps.

Byrnes: Not every COVID-19-related government program should be made permanent or even extended. Americans have access to safe and effective vaccines, and it’s time to focus on moving forward and getting back to normal, rather than cementing these stimulus/assistance measures into place at the federal level.

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Bloink: Yes, it’s true that not every COVID-19 emergency relief measure should be made permanent. Still, the government has the ability to provide transition relief so that millions of Americans aren’t shocked to lose their health coverage abruptly when the public health emergency is declared ended.

The reality is that millions of Americans are still struggling, and we should take action to ensure they have options for affordable health care once the public health emergency is over.

Byrnes: Americans today have an unprecedented number of options when it comes to finding health coverage. Soaring inflation, however, shows that the stimulus measures taken during the pandemic may have unintended consequences.

Today, we have to shift away from the temporary relief measures enacted during the pandemic and focus on our current fight against inflation.

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