OPINION  Jobless: Virus pandemic wins converts to Obamacare

OPINION  Jobless: Virus pandemic wins converts to Obamacare

Hilton Head Island Packet
May 28, 2020

By Frank Knapp Jr.

The Coronavirus pandemic has had a silver lining.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is winning over old enemies, detractors and the indifferent.

Not one Republican member of Congress voted for the ACA in 2010 and the GOP has been trying to repeal or defund it ever since.  President Donald Trump continues to call the ACA a disaster needing terminated and is supporting a federal lawsuit challenging the Constitutionality of the ACA that, if successful, could end ACA-delivered health insurance for about 20 million Americans.

With 38 million now unemployed, opinions are changing.

Based on a Kaiser Family Foundation estimate of the percent of the newly unemployed who are losing health insurance, we now have about 33 million more of our citizens without healthcare coverage.

This crisis has at least one vocal opponent of the ACA, Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas), acknowledging the important roll the ACA is playing:

“The good news is that if you lose your employer-provided coverage, which covers about 180 million Americans, then that is a significant life event, which makes you then eligible to sign up for the Affordable Care Act — and as you know, it has a sliding scale of subsidies up to 400 percent of poverty.”

Many of these 180 million workers with employer-sponsored health insurance were also either not fans of the ACA or were indifferent.

But massive unemployment is changing those attitudes.  The ACA and the expanded state Medicaid enabled by the ACA, are now becoming the health insurance lifeline for about 79% of the 33 million newly unemployed without healthcare coverage.

Joining the newly unemployed in changing their opinions about the ACA is the health insurance industry.

For years, many health insurance companies avoided offering plans in the ACA’s Insurance Marketplaces.  The ACA’s requirement that participating companies offer insurance policies to all and not charge increased premiums for pre-existing conditions was not viewed by the companies as a particularly good profitable business model.

However, even after numerous acts of Congress aimed at financially driving insurance companies out of the ACA Marketplace, those that stayed to offer policies to individuals have been rewarded with very good profits in recent years.

Now with 33 million more Americans looking for health insurance, carriers are making moves to enter the stable ACA Marketplaces or expand their existing ACA efforts.

Derided, condemned, and used as a partisan hammer, the ACA has survived and shown the nation the wisdom of the federal government making quality health insurance affordable and available to all.

Today we are in a political season.  Before the Coronavirus pandemic the ACA would have been a political wedge issue.  Proposals to expand it would have been called government taking away your health care.

However, now we are facing a virus that has crippled our economy resulting in million more unemployed and uninsured Americans.

Financial security and protecting our health are now top of mind regardless of our employment status.  We all realize how fast things can change and what we cannot afford to lose.  Health insurance is high on this list for individuals and families.

Small business owners are no different.  We want affordable, quality health insurance for our families and our employees.  After all, healthy employees are more productive.

The Coronavirus pandemic and its economic impact have made it clear to all of us that the old model of employer-provided health insurance is fragile, costly and does not offer the healthcare security millions of Americans deserve.

This new awareness means that the ACA should still be a campaign issue.

But this time the ACA debate should be about expanding the program, removing barriers from enrollment, creating a “Medicare-like” public option, enrolling all Medicaid eligible citizens and removing the income cap for premium assistance eligibility.

Big businesses and governments might want to continue offering employees group health insurance.  But small business owners clearly see that they and their employees will be more health-insurance resilient with a beefed-up ACA.

Frank Knapp is the president and CEO of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce.