What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

Pandemic intensifies universal health care conversation

More than 3 million Americans last week filed for unemployment benefits. Many who lost their jobs may now have to go without health insurance as well. And with a growing pandemic, the national conversation about universal health care is intensifying. Hari Sreenivasan spoke about with Sara Collins, vice president for health care coverage and access at the Commonwealth Fund, to learn more.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Sara Collins, thanks for joining us. Right now, we have these enormous numbers of people that were filing for unemployment and that number may grow. And the reason we're talking to you about this is so many Americans have healthcare tied to their employers. So what kind of a strain are we gonna see on the healthcare system and on the safety net in the next few weeks?

  •  Sara Collins:

    You know, it's a really major loss of jobs, unprecedented actually in terms, in terms of the number of an increase and will be an unprecedented loss for people with employer-based coverage. Most people get their coverage through, through an employer. So that's a big hit to the health insurance system and to people who are now covered through employer-based plans.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    What about the failsafe systems that we have in the Affordable Care Act or the Medicaid expansion?

  •  Sara Collins:

    This is, this is a really important protection now that we have that we wouldn't have had 10 years ago had it not been or the Affordable Care Act. So if you lose your job and you have coverage through your job, you are eligible automatically for a special enrollment period through the ACA marketplaces. So it's, what's really important for people to do right now is to go to healthcare.gov and check out your options through the marketplaces. You may also be eligible for Medicaid. So you could get, you might get coverage through Medicaid. But if you go to that website, you can find out what your options are. You might be eligible for a subsidy. Your income probably dropped, is dropping a lot. And so you're, you could be eligible for a subsidy to offset the cost of your premiums or be eligible for Medicaid in your state.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Does what we're living through now shine a different light on the conversation about universal health care?

  • Sara Collins:

    I think it really does. There are about 30 million people that are still uninsured. And so you're seeing in congressional bills attempts to patch that up by covering the costs, requiring insurers to cover the costs of testing, for example. We're considering other options. Eleven states have new special enrollment periods for the marketplaces so that people can get enrolled who are uninsured. And we're likely to see a nationwide effort to open up the marketplaces for people. But I think that this should be a baseline feature of our healthcare system. We should know going into a crisis like this that everyone has health insurance coverage. We're not trying to insure people to protect themselves from catastrophic health care costs. This is a very serious illness. And if people end up in the hospital without insurance, they're going to face major bills. If they can't pay those bills then the hospitals are going to have to find a way to come up with the funding to pay those bills. And I think it's going to, it's a reckoning for the United States to look closely at how we can expand coverage to get to universal coverage, and there are lots of ways we can do that. Vice President Biden has proposed building on the Affordable Care Act to get to universal coverage. Senator Sanders has proposed Medicare for All. These are very different paths, but they ultimately lead to the same place.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    What's the biggest thing you're worried about?

  • Sara Collins:

    I'm very concerned that people are going to not get care because of their insurance status. I'm worried that when they do go to get care that they're going to be very, very sick and that they won't, they'll get major bills and not able to pay those bills. And hospitals are also deeply in financial trouble because of that as well.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    So, considering the legislation that Congress has already passed, what should people know about this?

  •  Sara Collins:

    Well, they should know that all, all insurers and employers have to cover the tests associated with coronavirus, and it has to do without cost sharing so you won't face any costs. And states can also cover people who are uninsured through their Medicaid programs and for the costs of testing. But importantly, this does not include treatment. So if you get, if you get sick, and you're uninsured, your treatment costs aren't covered. So that's a gap that needs to be, still needs to be addressed. So one thing the administration could do is to expand that coverage for testing to treatment through the Medicaid program. Medicaid is an incredibly flexible program in a crisis. It's often drawn on for to respond to natural disasters or epidemics like this. And the administration could do much more than it's doing with Medicaid, with the Medicaid program right now to help patients and also hospitals that they're getting care from.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Sara Collins of the Commonwealth Fund, thanks so much for joining us.

  • Sara Collins:

    Thank you.

Listen to this Segment

The Latest