Health care advocates worry about expiring insurance subsidies | Journal-news

CHARLESTON — Health care advocates in West Virginia are calling on Congress to find a way to expand health insurance subsidies put in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic before they expire later this year.

The federal American Rescue Plan Act extended eligibility for health insurance subsidies under the Affordable Care Act. Subsidies given to people purchasing their own health insurance in state-run markets or through HealthCare.gov. Subsidies took the form of tax credits to reduce the cost of premiums.

Subsidies are limited to people whose income is above 400% of the poverty line. ARPA also increased the dollar amount of financial assistance for low-income people who were already eligible for health insurance through the ACA. But those grants expire on Jan. 1, 2023, unless Congress reauthorizes them.

According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the subsidies saved an individual an average of $50 per month or $85 per policy per month, with four out of five enrollees finding insurance plans for $10 per month or less. after the start of the tax credits.

West Virginia has two health insurance companies that participate in the state-run market: West Virginia Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield and CareSource. First Choice Services, the company that operates the state’s gambling addiction, substance abuse, mental health, tobacco, and suicide prevention hotlines, operates the ACA Navigator program in West Virginia.

Jeremy Smith, program director for First Choice Services, said ARPA’s health insurance grants have been very helpful for people who otherwise might not have been able to afford health insurance.

“I was able to travel the state to every nook and cranny and talk to many different families about health coverage and help them with the enrollment process. So what I’ve seen over the years is that these grants are the backbone of this program,” Smith said. “What I’ve seen in 2021 with the enhanced US bailout grants is that it’s been a game changer. It has made all the difference in the world for people to get affordable health coverage again.

Chris Walters, owner of Integrity Insurance Group in Charleston and a former Republican state senator, said employers have seen a 47% increase in health insurance costs over the past 10 years. He said the ARPA grants have given employees another option for affordable insurance.

“Where the subsidies have really come in is allowing those employees to be able to consider other opportunities to get insurance through the exchange and for employers to provide benefits in other areas as well,” Walters said. “This gives employers the opportunity here to point their employees in the right direction to find very affordable coverage while keeping them in their workforce in West Virginia.”

Jessie Ice, executive director of West Virginians for Affordable Health Care, said 23,000 West Virginians have ACA coverage in the state-run market, with 18,000 people losing coverage if subsidies expire.

“This is $37.5 million worth of grants that we were giving to our people that will be taken away if we don’t expand this tax credit and make it permanent,” Ice said. . “Without pursuing these enhanced ACA subsidies, West Virginians would likely see a 63% increase in market prices.”

Supporters of the subsidies have called on US senses Shelley Moore Capito, RW.Va., and Joe Manchin, DW.Va., to use their influence to expand the subsidies. Manchin toyed with a smaller version of President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better plan, which grant supporters see as a way to expand ACA tax credits. Ice recently participated in a Save our Care call with House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, DM.D., calling on Congress to act.

“We need our senators to use their power to tell Congress this is what West Virginia needs,” Ice said. “West Virginia needs these permanent advanced premium tax credits in our market.”

Steven Allen Adams can be reached at sadams@newsandsentinel.com.

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