COVID-19 Relief Gives More Floridians Access to the Affordable Care Act

The COVID-19 economic relief bill signed by President Joe Biden on Thursday includes what is being called the most significant expansion of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) since it went into effect in 2014.

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“I think this is a really big deal because it means that so many people who are uninsured now are going to be eligible for health (coverage),” said Cynthia Cox, the vice-president at the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. “It’s not quite getting us to universal health care, but it is getting us much closer to universal eligibility for insurance, at least among U.S. citizens.”

Melanie Hall is with the Family Health Care Foundation, which helps people enroll in the Affordable Care Act in the immediate Tampa Bay area. She says that there are several groups of individuals who have been previously shut out of accessing the ACA because of the price tag that now might be able to afford it.

One such group are those who fall into the so-called “Medicaid gap,” which consists of those with incomes that are under 100% of the federal poverty level. That population has been able to access the ACA in most states in the U.S., but Florida is one of only 12 that never expanded Medicaid for the adult population.

Another segment is what Hall calls the “family glitch.” That’s the ACA rule that bases eligibility for a family’s premium subsidies on whether available employer-sponsored insurance is affordable for the employee only, and not any dependents – meaning that they aren’t eligible for ACA subsidies.

“What has developed over time, though, is that family coverage for employee sponsored insurance has become extremely expensive, and then looking at full price plans on the marketplace can still be very unaffordable for families,” Hall says.

And while under the ACA insurance companies are not allowed to ban coverage for those with pre-existing conditions, premiums do go up with age. That means those in their late 50s and early 60s, who are not yet eligible for Medicare, pay some of the highest premiums out there – and could get some of the biggest savings under the new law.

For example, a 64-year-old person with an income of $58,000, who currently pays out $12,900 in annual premiums, would see that be reduced to $4,950, according to an analysis conducted by the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation.

Land O’ Lakes musician Eric Halvorsen is self-employed and has been on the Affordable Care Act since it began providing coverage seven years ago, but his premiums doubled at the beginning of last year. He has since been able to go back to paying his original monthly payments, but now his 17-year-old daughter has fallen off his plan.

“She tumbles. She’s a teenager. I’ve got to get her wisdom teeth done,” he says, concerned about her current lack of coverage.

Eric Halvorsen, a self-employed Land O’ Lakes musician, has been covered by the Affordable Care Act since its inception (Mitch Perry/Spectrum News)

The Congressional Budget Office has predicted that more than a million people previously shut out of accessing the ACA could now be eligible, but the subsides also mean that people like Halvorsen will be able to pay less under the new provisions, with the option to use those savings to buy a new plan with a lower deductible.

Although officials say it will take some time before healthcare.gov will be able to provide those subsidies, people can go on to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s website, use their health insurance marketplace calculator and find an estimate of what their premiums and subsidies might be under the new law.

The ACA subsidies are just one segment of the massive, $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief spending package that passed along strict party line votes in both the House and Senate over the past week.

Florida Republicans have trashed the bill as a redistribution of wealth that will send money to people who had no deleterious financial impacts from the COVID crisis. Polk County Congressman Scott Franklin called the bill “socialism in sheep’s clothing.”

Spectrum News reached out to both Florida’s GOP Senators to get their thoughts specifically on the expansion of subsidies for the Affordable Care Act.

A spokesperson for Florida Republican Senator Rick Scott said “Obamacare was a disaster that made health care more expensive, not less. Instead of expanding this failure, Senator Scott wants real solutions that actually bring down health care costs.”

Senator Marco Rubio did not return our request for comment.

The expanded subsidies are scheduled to last only two years.

For local residents who may want to inquire about what it would cost for them to sign up for the Affordable Care Act, they can reach out to the USF Health College of Public Health Florida Navigator Program, or the Family Health Care Foundation

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