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Editorial: A critical tool to help Georgians afford health care may soon expire

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Editorial: A critical tool to help Georgians afford health care may soon expire

Georgia State Capitol. Photo by Dean Hesse.

By State Sen. Gloria Butler (SD-55), Member of Health and Human Services Committee

It’s been difficult to see Georgia communities struggle throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, especially people in our underprivileged communities, our senior citizens and people already suffering from chronic and acute health conditions. For many of these Georgians, it’s a constant, stressful and financially draining endeavor to manage one’s health care needs. These circumstances were only exacerbated by the public health crisis, during which so many people needed affordable, swift access to care. Now that COVID cases are declining, and we’re easing into a period of recovery, it’s critical that state and federal lawmakers act on meaningful solutions to keep care accessible and affordable for more Americans.

A critical component of our nation’s recovery last year was the passage of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) – critical legislation that deployed vital resources to communities nationwide. A key piece of the bill that helped with the cost of health care was an expansion of health care subsidies – an important benefit that helped over 127,000 of Georgia’s uninsured residents qualify for tax credits relief in 2021. This relief has yielded significant, real-world benefits for people in our state who are relying on solutions like this to access affordable health care.

I have great concerns, however. These subsidies are due to expire at the end of the year, and we’re inching closer to a situation where thousands of Georgians could soon see their premiums go up or be forced to give up health care altogether. Southern states, in particular, are most at risk of having a spike in uninsured individuals if these premium tax credits expire. In fact, Georgia is estimated to have the highest increase of any other state, only behind Florida, in uninsured people in 2023 if premium tax credits expire. This is not the future we want for our state. These projections should spur urgent action from Senators Ossoff and Warnock to ensure that health care tax credits are made permanent once and for all.

Health insurance tax credits are making health care affordable for more Americans and our leaders must make every attempt to continue this positive momentum. The consistent rise in the number of insurance marketplace enrollees is encouraging, with 3.1 million Americans signing up during the Open Enrollment Period in 2022 — a 20% increase from 2021. People are taking advantage of all that the marketplace has to offer, and ARPA tax credits are enabling more people to afford care when a health issue arises.

Our leaders must be reminded of the unique needs of lower-income and disadvantaged communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. These same communities will also be hit hardest if health care subsidies become unavailable. According to a recent analysis by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, “A disproportionate share of young adults, low-income, Black Americans and residents of Southern states will lose health coverage” if health care subsidies are not made permanent.

The facts are clear – thousands of Georgians may not be able to afford care in 2023 if Congress fails to take action. This potential outcome is unacceptable, and change must happen soon. The good news is that a solution is within our reach. If leaders representing Georgians in Washington and their congressional colleagues prioritize this issue, we can ensure that thousands of Georgia residents will be able to receive the health care they need.

As the State Senator for Georgia’s 55th District and a member of the Health and Human Services Committee, I’ve listened to the many concerns of my constituents and examined the diverse public health needs of our communities. One persistent need among so many people — but particularly among disadvantaged communities and those managing volatile health care needs — is more pathways for affordable health care. Progress made thus far to improve health care affordability is promising, but this battle is far from over. To solidify this progress, we need health care subsidies to be made permanent.

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