The True Test of Affordable Care Act amidst the Coronavirus Crisis

Last month the Affordable Care Act completed its ten years, and it is known to help 20 million more Americans in obtaining health coverage than before this law was enacted. As per the experts, coronavirus pandemic is believed to be the first true test of this Act and how ACA will work at preventing significant coverage loss.

According to the industry experts, if people affected with COVID-19 have coverage through the ACA, then they are expected to maintain their financial stability, whereas COVID-19 patients without ACA are sure to face financial hardship, and it may continue long after the pandemic ends.

Now amidst this pandemic, there is a risk that some of the gains in insurance coverage could be lost. As per a record, 6.6 million Americans filed for unemployment last week. According to the Economic Policy Institute report, it has been estimated that around 3.5 million workers may have lost their insurance due to layoffs in the last two weeks. Losing health insurance is frightening, and it is much more painful, especially during a pandemic.

This is the first recession as well as the first pandemic since the coming of ACA, and it is all happening at the same time, making it more difficult to predict how things are going to unfold. Therefore, this will be the first real test of how well ACA will work at preventing significant coverage loss. The number of uninsured is sure to increase, though its extent depends on various factors.

Laid-off workers who have lost their health coverage have some options for staying insured. Like some of the workers may have spouses with employer-sponsored health coverage under which they can also be covered. Some of the workers may opt for COBRA coverage, and some may buy health insurance from a subsidized ACA healthcare exchange. However, both of these options are generally expensive for some people to afford. Medicaid is also an option for some people who can qualify, and there are more chances for people to qualify for Medicaid in the states that have expanded its coverage through the ACA.

The Trump administration has not opened a special enrollment period for federal ACA marketplace exchanges for people who were uninsured before the pandemic. Whereas some states have opened enrollment in their exchanges so that newly unemployed people can enroll in the federal exchanges if they become eligible due to the current change in their coverage status. Currently, uninsured Americans can explore their options on the ACA website HealthCare.gov. Having health coverage can be crucial for anyone facing a costly illness like COVID-19. This major catastrophic illness could sink the uninsured people.

Insured Americans because of the ACA were prevented from going into health-crisis, and they also have caps on their out-of-pocket expenses for their healthcare. For nearly 28 million Americans there are no-cost limits, and the medical bills generated due to coronavirus are sure to give them a shock.

If people afflicted with the coronavirus require hospitalization, then the price for their treatment could be staggering and can even exceed $40,000 or more for the uninsured. Whereas the COVID-19 treatment cost for people with employer coverage could range around $20,292, and these costs can even exceed for patients with the severe COVID-19 cases who require ventilator support and prolonged hospital stays.

On comparing this with people having health insurance and protections from the ACA along with the limits on out-of-pocket costs, it was discovered that such people are expected to receive a medical bill for COVID-19 hospitalization anywhere in the range of $1,300 to $6,000. This generally depends upon whether people have received health coverage from a large employer, or they have bought health insurance in the marketplace and don’t qualify for extra cost breaks.

So, there is a wide disparity in the individual out-of-pocket costs, and this cost is even more for the uninsured. To ease out the condition for some people, some of the insurance companies are now waiving patient cost-sharing for COVID-19 treatment. Besides, people who cannot afford to pay their medical bills can even try to negotiate the costs with the hospital and providers, or they can check for any charity care programs run by the hospital, though there is no guarantee of such programs.

Due to the sky-high medical bills, uninsured people face problems in accessing treatment and getting the care they need to stay healthy. Uninsured people due to their financial limitations are unable to seek timely care. Such acts of the people can prove deadly during the outbreak of coronavirus virus.  Therefore, having insurance is the most vital in ensuring that people have access to healthcare.

Last month Congress passed Act for free testing for the coronavirus for all, but this will not help to ease the treatment costs. Even hospitals are suffering due to uninsured COVID-19 patients who are unable to pay the hospital fees, and it is quickly adding up, as medical centers become deluged with COVID-19 patients.

The Affordable Care Act has some flaws, and it presents challenges during this health crisis. The law failed to achieve universal health coverage, as health insurance has remained unaffordable for many. Some people are still unable to buy coverage through health exchanges, and they don’t even qualify for Medicaid. Workers with employer-based coverage find deductibles to be too high. Despite flaws, the ACA is as popular as it ever has been, as per a national poll according to which 42% of registered voters believed ACA to be a good idea compared with 35% who think it is a bad idea and 23% people do not have any opinion.

As it is already stated that there are 20 million more Americans having health insurance due to ACA and now when the country is likely moving toward another recession and people are losing their jobs, ACA is expected to make sure that only fewer uninsured people are left. This will be the case as long as the ACA remains the law of the land.

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