City Leaders should make sure their residents have Smooth Access to Healthcare

In the last sixty days, around thirty-six million Americans filed for unemployment due to the coronavirus pandemic. Over 800,000 Americans have lost their job in April alone, and local government employees are at greater risk. As per the Kaiser Family Foundation report, 27 million Americans have recently lost their health coverage in addition to the 28 million Americans who were not insured before the coronavirus pandemic. This is mainly because the majority of Americans receive health insurance through their employers, so many people and families are currently without any health insurance. Perhaps the good news is that many uninsured individuals are currently eligible to enroll in a health plan, but they need to immediately do it.

Americans need to urgently enroll in a health plan because the provision for signing up during the special enrollment period is of only 60 days, and the majority of people here are approaching that 60-day mark. Since most of the states have officially issued the special enrollment period much before and the time is ticking, so people need to quickly act upon it. If they miss this opportunity, then they have to wait for the open enrollment period to enroll in a health plan.

This is the time for cities to focus upon its residents, and they need to ensure that their residents have access to health plans because the special enrollment period will soon be closing, and the residents who lost their employer-sponsored health plan will remain uninsured if they don’t get enroll now. Cities should ensure that their residents are aware that they need to visit government healthcare websites if their state uses that for its insurance exchange, and if the website shows that they have lost health coverage, then they have to enroll in a new health plan.

Around 80% of the 27 million Americans who lost health insurance recently have other options to enroll in a plan either through the Children’s Health Insurance Program, Medicaid, or subsidized health plans on the Affordable Care Act’s marketplaces. Remaining 20% of the residents were unable to enroll in a plan because they may be living in one of the twenty-four states that have not expanded Medicaid coverage.

It the time of the pandemic, it is important to have health insurance not just to have financial help for the treatment of COVID-19 if got infected, but also for other chronic conditions that may require medical services to address acute episodes. Besides, due to COVID-19 residents are asked to stay home due to which they are having the mental and physiological effects. While staying at home people have reduced access to exercise opportunities, fewer visits from social services, and they also avoid necessary but non-emergent healthcare. These can further lead to physical and mental stress and also cause health-damaging implications.

Americans have been suggested with some of the ways to cope with the fear of the unknown stress by the American Psychological Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Both these organizations recommended to limit news consumption, take care of physical health by exercise and balanced meals, have time to relax and keep virtual contact with loved ones. Cities can play a big role in helping their residents manage their physical and mental health during the crisis. They have adopted several initiatives recently like employee wellness programs and health risk assessments to help manage healthcare costs, increase productivity, and increase attendance.

Cities need to address the ill-effects of quarantine by engaging residents to virtual wellness counseling, creating more public spaces for exercise, and monitoring physically distanced activities. Besides these, the cities can also start psychological counseling, virtual fitness classes, nature access, and virtual social activities. Many cities have already started with several such initiatives like video-led yoga, virtual recreation center, a virtual library, and offering web-page links to children’s activities.

Some of the cities have started a mission to check on vulnerable residents through their employees. They keep check on residents suffering from severe mental illness or substance abuse. Some of the cities in collaboration with the city police and fire divisions have started providing support for older adults. Cities have finally started engaging with their employees and residents in innovative ways to manage mental stress. The city of Rochester, New York hosted an online meeting to inform youth and families about strategies to cope with this pandemic. Similarly, Louisville, Kentucky hosted an online event featuring two local licensed therapists who answered residents’ questions on the best ways to talk to their children regarding mental health.

Several cities along with Madison, Wisconsin, Boston, Massachusetts, North Carolina have come up with virtual check-up services for their employee healthcare programs or generated resource documents with advice for employees on the front lines of the pandemic response to handle the stress. Cities need to ensure that individuals who have lost their health coverage due to pandemic get quickly enrolled in a new health plan, and creative approaches are adopted to prevent increasing public health issues associated with a lack of access to healthcare during the pandemic. Cities can play a major role to handle adverse effects of isolation through their several activities like digital outreach programs, funding for employee health resources, and ensuring that residents and employees receive the care they require to stay healthy at home.

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