While congressional Republicans and their cheerleaders, like former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum, are on the verge of making another run at health care repeal, legislators and everyday citizens in states across the country this week took actions to expand health care access and shore up their marketplaces. Here’s what happened this week, from Virginia to California:
In Virginia, the state Senate joined with the House of Delegates, sending a measure to expand Medicaid to Gov. Ralph Northam to sign into law. The expansion will extend health insurance to 400,000 Virginians.
Richmond Times-Dispatch: Virginia Set To Expand Medicaid As Senate And House Back Budget Deal. “Six years after the U.S. Supreme Court left the decision to states on whether to expand their Medicaid programs under the Affordable Care Act, Virginia is about to extend health care coverage to hundreds of thousands of Virginians without it… [Republican State Senators Ben Chafin and Jill Vogel] defended their decisions as necessary to invest in core public services, while expanding health coverage to people who need it and the hospitals that provide it. ‘I came to the conclusion that ‘no’ just wasn’t an answer anymore,’ he said.” [Richmond Times-Dispatch, 5/31]
In New Jersey, the legislature acted to stabilize the state’s insurance marketplace by implementing a state-level individual mandate, following in the footsteps of Maryland, which passed stabilization measures last month. Congressional Republicans repealed the federal mandate in December’s tax bill, which, combined with the Trump Administration’s short-term plan regulations, had been projected to increase premiums in New Jersey by nearly 11%.
NJ.com: Phil Murphy Signs Law Protecting Obamacare From Trump With N.J. Mandate To Have Health Insurance. “Gov. Phil Murphy on Wednesday signed a law preserving a critical yet controversial part of the Affordable Care Act that President Donald Trump’s administration repealed last year… State Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex, one of the prime sponsors of the law, said keeping the mandate ‘was needed to maintain a foundation for the insurance market and to allow the success of the ACA to continue.’ Trump’s actions ‘will usher in an era of higher health insurance costs for everyone and lower health coverage rates. We want to protect New Jersey from the negative impact,’ said state Sen. Troy Singleton, D-Burlington, also a sponsor. About 800,000 people obtained insurance coverage under the law — 500,000 through Medicaid and about 300,000 through a commercial plan.” [NJ.com, 5/30]
In Illinois, the state legislature is expected to implement a six-month limit on the Administration’s proposed short-term junk plans, restoring them to their original intention and protecting Illinoisans’ health and the state’s insurance marketplace. The move follows similar legislative actions in Hawaii and California, which is considering banning short-term plans entirely.
Chicago Tribune: Illinois Groups Push To Restrict Short-term Insurance, As Trump Administration Seeks To Expand It. “Dozens of Illinois advocacy groups, under the umbrella of the Protect Our Care Coalition, are supporting a bill that would impose a six-month limit on the use of short-term insurance plans — coverage originally meant to serve as a stopgap for consumers between health insurance plans, such as people changing jobs who can’t afford continued coverage under a previous employer’s plan or students taking a semester off school… Short-term plans can leave consumers in a lurch because they often don’t cover things like maternity care, pre-existing conditions, mental health or prescription medications. In addition to the six-month time limit, the bill would require warnings about what the plans do not cover to be read aloud to consumers buying the plans or featured on websites where they’re sold. The state Senate on Friday unanimously passed the bill.” [Chicago Tribune, 5/25]
Speaking of Medicaid expansion, Utah and Idaho both advanced ballot measures to expand Medicaid, too:
The Hill: Medicaid Expansion Qualifies For Ballot In Utah. “A measure to expand Medicaid under ObamaCare in Utah will appear on the ballot in November after it was certified as having enough signatures. Liberal groups hailed the announcement from the state’s lieutenant governor as they hope to make the deep-red state the 33rd to expand the health insurance program for the poor under the health law. Medicaid expansion would extend coverage to about 150,000 people in the state.” [The Hill, 5/30]
Associated Press: Medicaid Expansion Moves Closer To Possible Referendum. “A Medicaid expansion proposal has passed the signature threshold, officials confirmed on Thursday, but said further review is needed before it gets on the November ballot. Ada County Chief Deputy Clerk Phil McGrane says county clerks across the state have verified roughly 58,000 signatures that organizers submitted earlier this month.” [US News & World Report, 5/24]
In Maine, the Bangor Daily News Editorial Board called for the legislature to fund the state’s Medicaid expansion, which passed overwhelmingly in a referendum last fall:
Bangor Daily News: Lawmakers Must Fund Medicaid Expansion, Which Is The Law, ‘Not A Suggestion.’ “By expanding Medicaid, Maine will make insurance coverage available to as many as 80,000 Mainers. These are people who work but can’t afford health insurance or their employer doesn’t offer it. They are not poor enough or do not have a disability to qualify for Medicaid without an expansion. Under the Affordable Care Act, the federal government covers 90 percent of the cost. Maine is estimated to receive more than $525 million per year for a state investment of about $55 million annually, beginning in 2021, the first full year of implementation. Expanding Medicaid means thousands of Mainers who don’t have insurance will be able to access preventative care, vaccinations, addiction treatment, counseling and other needed care. It will also help stabilize the state’s hospitals, many of which are struggling financially.” [Bangor Daily News, 5/31]
And in Alabama, Jim Carnes, Policy Director of Alabama Rise, eloquently made the case for Medicaid expansion in an op-ed published by the Anniston Star:
Anniston Star: Expanding Medicaid Would Improve Alabama’s Health, Budgets And Economy. “The new Urban Institute report estimates that 314,000 Alabamians would enroll in Medicaid if Alabama extended eligibility to low-income workers. That would mean an additional $1.54 billion in federal funding surging into Alabama’s economy each year under the 9-to-1 federal match rate. It also would mean rural hospitals – like the one in Jacksonville that announced in May that it plans to close – would no longer be bleeding red ink through services to uninsured patients… In any other industry, the prospect of such gains would have political candidates of all stripes blowing trumpets and leading parades. And those other economic development plans wouldn’t have the added advantage that this one brings: giving people a new lease on life by helping them get the health care they need. Isn’t it time we broke the partisan gridlock on the coverage gap? Isn’t it time we demanded that anyone seeking to lead our state offer a vision of a healthier Alabama – and a path to getting there?” [Anniston Star, 5/29]
So while President Trump continued peddling lies about health care in Washington, D.C., states across the country continued the work of expanding health care access to hundreds of thousands of Americans. The ACA remains the law of the land, and its staying power shows it has become woven into the fabric of our nation’s health care system.