Expansion of Insurance Coverage Top Priority for New Medicare-Medicaid Chief
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The new head of the federal agency that oversees health benefits for nearly 150 million Americans and $ 1 trillion in federal spending said in one of his first interviews that his top priorities will be to expand the insurance coverage and ensuring health equity.
“We have seen through the pandemic what happens when people don’t have health insurance and how important that is,” said Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, who has been confirmed by the Senate to lead them. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services on May 25 and sworn in on May 27. “Our goal will be to ensure that regulations and policies focus on improving coverage.”
This is a brutal change from the Trump administration, which pushed the agency to lead efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act and cut Medicaid, the federal program for low-income people.
Brooks-LaSure, whose agency oversees the ACA markets in addition to Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, said she was not surprised at the strong underwriting of ACA insurance since the President Joe Biden reopened registrations in January. The administration announced last month that more than a million people had already registered.
“Over the past two years, I’ve worked with a lot of state-based markets and we’ve been able to see the difference in listings when states are actively pushing coverage,” she said. A former congressional health staffer and the Obama administration, Brooks-LaSure was most recently CEO of consulting firm Manatt Health. “I believe most people who aren’t registered want” coverage but may not understand whether it’s available or how to get it, she said. “It’s about knowledge and affordability. “
Brooks-LaSure also suggested that the administration would support congressional efforts to provide coverage for the millions of Americans in the so-called Medicaid divide. These are people in the dozen states that have not extended Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act who earn too little to qualify for ACA market coverage. Georgia Democratic Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, whose GOP-led state has not expanded the program, are calling for a new federal program to cover those who fall into the gap.
Brooks-LaSure said she would prefer states to use the additional incentive funding provided in the recent US bailout to expand their Medicaid programs, “because ideally states are able to develop policies in their own states; they are closest to the ground. But if states do not accept the offer – none have so far – “the public option or some other coverage would certainly be a strategy to ensure that people in those states have a cover, ”she said.
The impending insolvency of the trust fund that finances much of the Medicare program is also on its radar. Last year’s economic downturn and the resulting loss of employee withholding tax is expected to hasten the date when Medicare’s hospital insurance program will not be able to cover all of its bills.
Brooks-LaSure said she was sure she and Congress would spend time on the issue over the coming year, but these discussions could also provide officials with an opportunity to reconsider the Medicare program and consider expanding the benefits. Democrats in Congress are considering both lowering the age of Medicare eligibility and adding benefits the program lacks, including dental, hearing and vision coverage.
“I hope that when we look at creditworthiness we really focus on the strength of the Medicare program,” said Brooks-LaSure. “And that can mean changes that strengthen the program.”
KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism on health issues. Along with policy analysis and surveys, KHN is one of the three main operational programs of the KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed nonprofit organization that provides information on health issues to the nation.