When health insurance is tied to employment: 9 ways Minnesota can meet this moment

As the economy teeters, elected officials are racing to make changes to the nation’s Unemployment Insurance system. But in a country that ties health insurance to employment, we need to ask: what about health care?

There’s no question about it. Everyone needs health care, period. Especially in a pandemic.

Now, as we face both a public health and economic crisis, the United States is one of the few developed countries grappling with a patchwork health insurance system that isn’t equipped to handle this crisis.

At TakeAction Minnesota, we’re already getting questions like this from our members:

“I lost my job because of COVID-19. My husband’s job offers health insurance but we can’t afford it. Because he has employer health insurance I can’t get on MinnesotaCare. What can we do?”

If we had a publicly funded universal health care system where everyone’s in and nobody’s out, an economic downturn would mean that people could lose their jobs without worrying about losing their health insurance. Undocumented workers could get the care they need without risking everything.

In the coming weeks and months, there will be a massive influx of Americans who need health insurance and coverage related to COVID-19.

We’re in a pandemic and our broken health insurance system won’t suffice. Despite being in a public health crisis, there’s no way to quickly cover tens of thousands of people who are losing employer-based health insurance without changing the rules. There’s burdensome paperwork, strict verification requirements, waiting periods, and paperwork needed from past employers. There are other gaps in coverage and care that need strategic action to be address.

In the short-term, Minnesota’s government, health plans, employers, and the public can work together to shore up a broken health insurance system. Here are 9 actions that can help Minnesota meet the moment:

  1. Presume people who apply for public programs during the crisis are eligible. Minimize verification requirements for Minnesotans applying for MinnesotaCare or Medicaid. Waive waiting periods. Skip burdensome paperwork from employers. MNsure and DHS must work closely together to move Minnesotans into a health care plan and keep them covered.
  2. MNsure must rapidly ramp up staff. Our state-based health insurance exchange isn’t designed or prepared for tens of thousands of health insurance applicants in the middle of the year. MNsure must plan to ramp up staff and health care navigators to meet growing demand for coverage changes.
  3. Work creatively together if need be. Let’s not be naive: Republicans have politicized MNsure for years. Most are anti-government, don’t care if it fails and are actively working to overturn the ACA in the Supreme Court (honestly, just writing this sentence during a pandemic sounds like fiction but it’s true). That said, we need state leaders to be creative (with the public) if we need to stagger the application process on a voluntary basis.
  4. Large employers must provide health insurance to all workers. We’re in a pandemic. Employers that are staffing up should provide quality health insurance to all workers immediately, regardless of classification. This includes seasonal, hourly, and temporary employees. Waiting periods must be waived. Everyone in, nobody out.
  5. Health plans must cover care and treatment for COVID-19. To date, health plans are covering COVID-19 tests–but where are the tests? There aren’t enough. To make it through this crisis, health plans must cover testing, care and treatment for COVID-19 or whatever people are sick with (whether or not there are tests to confirm which virus people have), and vaccines once they’re available–pre-deductible and with no cost-sharing.
  6. Fix the MinnesotaCare Family Glitch. This has been on the Legislature’s to do list for 10 years. Let families access MinnesotaCare if they can’t afford health insurance that’s offered through a spouse’s employer.
  7. Expand tax credits to people on the private market. Expand state based tax credits to people who buy health insurance on the private market and don’t qualify for federal Advanced Premium Tax Credits.
  8. Make health care safe for everyone. It’s wrong for undocumented Minnesotans to forgo the care and medicine they need because they don’t have insurance or are afraid of the consequences of seeking health care. Hospitals will be ramping up their uncompensated care pools during the COVID-19 outbreak; but ensuring hospitals can afford to provide care is not enough, undocumented community members also need to know their lives and health matters, and trust they can get care safely. We are tied together. We’ll only get through this if everyone has what they need to survive, no exception.
  9. Stop Pharmaceutical Corporations from Price-Gouging Medicine. Charging $150 for a pack of toilet paper during a pandemic is unsavory, but no one died from finding other ways to clean themselves. However, people are dying because pharmaceutical companies are price-gouging medicine. If there’s public will to stop price-gouging on toilet paper and hand sanitizer, let’s change the rules and stop drug companies from doing the same thing.

Number 10 is obvious, but it’s long-term: fight for Medicare for All. We are a modern, moral society–we shouldn’t be scrambling to get people on health insurance during a pandemic.

Congresswoman Omar is the ONLY member of Minnesota’s Congressional delegation who supports Medicare for All. Call every other member of Minnesota’s Congressional Delegation and tell them to support Medicare for All.

What else should be on this list? Email me at kenza (at) takeactionminnesota.org.

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