June 12, 2020 Blog

In the Wake of COVID-19 State Lawmakers Make Health Care More Accessible and Affordable

The COVID pandemic is a clear demonstration of the brokenness of our public health infrastructure and our health care systems. This month many state lawmakers are returning for regular or special sessions and grappling with not only the public health crisis but also the economic downfall. They are taking the lessons learned during the initial months of the pandemic to ensure their health systems and communities are prepared for potential future waves of the virus. In addition, state leaders in some states are beginning to build a health care system better equipped to meet the needs of people and ensure everyone has access to health care they can afford, many of which were highlighted in USofCare’s Call to Action: State Legislative Recommendations to Address COVID-19. Several states are taking action now to meet the needs of people:

 

Policy makers should ensure a reliable health care system that is fully resourced to support essential workers and available when it is needed, both now and after the pandemic.

  • Kansas increased healthcare access by allowing advanced-degree nurse practitioners and physician assistants to see patients without supervision from doctors. This new law will improve patients’ access to care by expanding the pool of licensed professionals, especially in rural or underserved communities with a limited number of health care providers through the end of the year. 

 

Policy makers also should provide people with the financial and health care security they need to weather COVID-19 and other health care needs they face.

  • The Colorado General Assembly is posed to pass legislation to increase healthcare affordability through its individual marketplace. The bill would provide a stable state-based funding source to make health insurance more affordable for more than 250,000 families who must buy their own insurance on Colorado’s insurance marketplace. A small, already-established fee paid by insurance companies would be used to offer families lower premiums and additional subsidies. 
  • Michigan and California are moving bills to expand health care access through telehealth. Michigan is considering a package of bills that strengthens telehealth coverage and allows additional modes of communication including telephone, expands the types of services patients can seek through telehealth and where the patient must be located when receiving care. All five of these bills have passed the House and are being considered in the Senate. The California Legislature is considering a law to establish a grant program which assists children’s hospitals in their efforts to address pediatric behavioral health through telemedicine. As COVID exacerbates mental illness and precludes in-person consultation, these programs enable vulnerable populations to access care without risk of infection or stigmatization associated with clinic visits.
  • Massachusetts is exploring ways to increase health care access to those who lost employment due to COVID by broadening eligibility requirements for its Medicaid Program. The Massachusetts Legislature is considering a bill that allows those eligible for unemployment and disrupted by COVID to sign-up for MassHealth.

 

Policymakers should ensure our health care system cares for everyone, including people who are vulnerable and those who were already struggling before the pandemic hit.

  • Missouri and Minnesota continue to tackle the opioid crisis by increasing access to care for treatment and recovery. The Missouri Legislature recently established its own Opioid Addiction Treatment and Recovery Fund, which will channel dollars from lawsuits, donations, and appropriations toward programs and expenses that deal with addiction prevention and treatment. The Minnesota Legislature passed a bill that appropriates $2.7 million in grants to address the ongoing opioid crisis, including getting more naloxone kits into communities and increasing access to medication-assisted treatment. 

 

The COVID pandemic is going to have a lasting impact on people across the country, our health care systems and other institutions. Health care access and affordability are critically important in the fight against COVID, but also to ensure the full, healthy lives of people long after a vaccine is developed. Policy makers must take the lessons we are learning during the pandemic to inform decisions in the immediate aftermath and into the future to ensure that every person in American can access health care they need.