As millions of American workers lose their jobs (and their employer-sponsored health benefits) during the COVID-19 pandemic, the demand is growing for Congress to guarantee health coverage for everybody in the U.S.
Two distinct visions of an emergency response have emerged, one that builds on the proven success of existing public programs like Medicare and one that subsidizes the commercial health insurance industry and large corporations that self insure by paying for outrageously expensive (and generally insufficient) COBRA policies. These approaches are reflected in a number of bills currently before Congress:
- The Health Care Emergency Guarantee Act, H.R. 6906, would empower Medicare to cover all medically necessary care during the pandemic. (Bill summary HERE; bill summary, text, and co-sponsors HERE.)
- The Medicare Crisis Program, H.R. 6674, would cover many of the newly uninsured under Medicare. (Bill summary, text, and co-sponsors HERE.)
- The Worker Health Coverage Protection Act, H.R. 6514, would subsidize COBRA for some of the uninsured. (Bill summary, text, and co-sponsors HERE.)
(Note: Subsequent to the above bills being introduced in Congress, Sens. Bernie Sanders, Ed Markey, and Kirsten Gillibrand introduced the “Make Billionaires Pay Act,” which would impose a 60% tax on billionaires’ wealth gains made during the pandemic. This would generate over $420 billion in revenue, which would allow Medicare to cover out-of-pocket health care expenses for every American for one year.)
Contact your members of Congress
PNHP welcomes both the Health Care Emergency Act and the Medicare Crisis Program as emergency measures that would save lives during the immediate COVID-19 crisis. But Congress also needs to pass and implement a single-payer national health program to cover all Americans, prioritize public health spending, and allow for a coordinated response to future pandemics.
Please contact your representative and both of your senators by calling (202) 224-3121 TODAY. Ask them to support the more comprehensive Health Care Emergency Guarantee Act, as well as the Medicare for All Act of 2019 (H.R. 1384 in the House and S. 1129 in the Senate).
Looking for guidance on what to say to your elected officials? PNHP has developed phone and email scripts related to the Health Care Emergency Guarantee Act. You can also email your representative and senators directly using our simple webform (click below).
COBRA subsidies are not the answer
Unfortunately, powerful interests are lining up behind COBRA subsidies as a means of covering the newly uninsured. But this policy would be both outrageously expensive and woefully incomplete. It would not cover workers who did not have access to employer-based plans before losing their jobs, nor would it cover the approximately 30 million Americans who lacked health insurance prior to the pandemic.
Webinar and slide set
Interested in presenting a comprehensive overview of emergency health coverage legislation to your local PNHP chapter or community group? Consider a webinar using this slide set, which was developed by PNHP-MO chair Dr. Ed Weisbart. Or share the video below, which was recorded by Ian O’Connor, a medical student in South Carolina and a member of Students for a National Health Program.
Webinar: Emergency response in the pandemic
Public Citizen hosted a webinar on April 29, 2020 to discuss legislative and other responses to the loss of employer-sponsored health coverage. Public health expert (and PNHP member) Karen Palmer offered her perspective from Canada. Other guests included Rep. Joe Kennedy and Stephanie Kang, health policy advisor to Rep. Pramila Jayapal.
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