COVID-19 in many ways is further exposing the brokenness of society. A prime example being the healthcare system and health insurance policies in the United States.
I remember about a year ago my dad called as I was doing work on the third floor of Case library. He told me he would be going through a transition with his job—essentially, he had lost his job due to a restructuring of the company he had worked for. This spurred a major question about health insurance. My family had previously been on a health insurance policy linked to my dad’s employment. My mom in her current position as per diem physical therapist in a hospital does not receive benefits. This began a long and frustrating process of determining what plan to get, when we could actually get it, all being complicated by the uncertainty of where I will be after graduation and if I will have a job that will provide health insurance.
Currently, my family is still in the process of transitioning health insurance plans. And now we are facing a global pandemic. Through the mess of still switching insurance plans, my family has been fortunate and privileged enough to still have insurance at this critical time (albeit a temporary plan, subject to change again in a month, it’s still health insurance). But for some, that is not the reality. My family’s recent experiences and struggles with searching for a plan, and a time coming in my life when I will soon need to find my own health insurance has made me think about the even greater struggles people are facing with the lack of coverage during a dangerous global pandemic; and the necessity of change.
I hope to provide here a brief overview of how COVID-19 is dismantling the normal processing of health insurance, bear witness to people currently without health insurance and hope to inform and inspire more vigilance and motivation to push for change in our healthcare system.
Health insurance is complicated. There are job-based plans, marketplace health insurance (Affordable Care Act), Medicaid and Medicare. There are specific enrollment times for the different insurance plans—referred to as the open enrollment period. Currently, the 2020 open enrollment under the federal marketplace is closed—a qualifying event is required for enrollment. As a result of COVID-19 almost 10 million people have lost their jobs and filed for unemployment—losing income, and for some, health insurance.
From my family’s experience of still figuring out health insurance, I understand how stressful and scary this is—even without a global pandemic occurring. The Trump administration has decided to keep open enrollment closed for federal insurance and has decided not to enact a special enrollment period. A special enrollment period means people can enroll without filing paperwork of a qualifying event occurring. Some states (NY, CA, CO, CT, MD, MA, MN, RI, VT, NV, WA) who have control of their own marketplace have opened a special enrollment due to COVID-19. Therefore, people can apply without going through the struggle of putting together paperwork proving a qualifying event.
I remember this past fall looking through the Colgate health insurance plan, and seeing the paperwork required to enroll—I needed a letter, proving loss of coverage. I didn’t have that; my father didn’t have that yet—but that needed to be submitted and then it would take another 30 days for it to process. Amidst the craziness and the various other struggles people are facing due to COVID-19, it would make sense to have open enrollment federally, hopefully reducing potential delays of having a qualifying event being processed.
Why do we have a system in which there are so many hurdles to access healthcare? Do people really have the time to wait 30 or 60 days for their health insurance kick in? People have to verify their eligibility for healthcare during a global pandemic when confirmed cases in the United States are almost 400,000 people, the number of deaths is over 12,000, and there is an overall estimated hospitalization rate of 4.6 per 100,000 people. Does not seem right. Some health insurance companies claim they will be waiving the costs of COVID-19 associated care; however.
Maybe once things have recovered (hopefully soon), the issues COVID-19 has revealed will be the impetus for change in our profit-driven, broken health care system. Universal healthcare? I think that’s what we need. And now we are at an election year, so I want to challenge people to really think about how we can change moving forward. Often, I hear that it just isn’t feasible to radically change our healthcare system; that it wouldn’t work. Yet, I hope that how this pandemic has played out in this country shows the necessity for change. We cannot be complacent—and remember we created this system; we can change the system. Talk to your family, talk to friends, engage in shifting views to create a movement to change how healthcare is performed in the United States.
Here are some websites if you’d like to find more information:
Heatlthcare.gov (federal exchange): https://www.healthcare.gov/
NY state marketplace: https://nystateofhealth.ny.gov/
Kaiser Family Foundation (a non-profit that provides info on national health issues): https://www.kff.org/