Op-Ed: Congress must extend healthcare coverage to protect Alabama's pandemic-ravaged families
Having been born and raised in Opelika, I have seen our community grow and change while facing both good times and bad. The past two years have been especially difficult for so many of us, impacting our family and friends, our small businesses and careers, our children’s schooling and—perhaps most significantly—our health.
As we begin to think about our recovery from the hardships surrounding the global health crisis, it is important that we remember that many of the difficulties it brought to light existed long before the pandemic. We must strive not only to recover but to rebuild stronger and healthier than before.
One of the most critical issues for Alabama families that that has been exposed by the coronavirus pandemic is the need to access affordable, quality healthcare coverage.
Congress stepped in to address Americans’ inability to access affordable coverage earlier this year when it included a provision that enhanced health insurance premium subsidies in the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). That relief has made a big difference.
Over 40,000 Alabamians became newly eligible for tax credit relief through ARPA. This meant families across our state had a new opportunity to access health coverage on the federal marketplace that they could more comfortably afford. During a special enrollment period from February to May of this year, 25,127 Alabama residents signed up for marketplace coverage.
With so many Americans who were financially impacted by the pandemic as jobs were lost and businesses were closed, our recovery—in every sense of the word—will not be complete once the pandemic is over. The need for increased access to quality, affordable health insurance will not go away. Yet, these subsidies are set to expire at the end of next year, which would leave 40,000 Alabamians without the opportunity to access the coverage they deserve.
Fortunately, Congress currently has the opportunity to make the health coverage subsidies permanent in this year’s budget reconciliation package. A recent study by the Urban Institute shows that if the subsidies are made permanent this year, 58,000 uninsured Alabama residents could gain access to care through the federal marketplace next year.
By making the expanded tax credits permanent, Congress would not only help Alabama families get back on their feet after two of the most difficult years our nation has faced in decades, but it would also provide millions of low and middle-income Americans with the opportunity to obtain critical health coverage and care that was out of their reach even before the pandemic took hold. In addition, making these tax credits permanent would potentially provide for the coverage gap for states like Alabama that haven’t expanded Medicaid.
We are fortunate to have representatives on Capitol Hill like Representative Terri Sewell, who has long advocated for the best interests of our community. Right now, it is essential that Congress ensure that every American family has the opportunity to not just recover from the devastation of the pandemic, but to grow and thrive.
Broadening access to affordable health care and insurance by making the health insurance subsidies permanent this year is a critical first step.
Jeremy Gray represents District 83 in the Alabama House of Representatives. He was born in Opelika and currently owns his own small business. Rep. Gray has served on the advisory board for the Opelika Community of Hope, Opelika High School Career Tech, Lee-Russell Ombudsman, and Opelika Ward 2.