Access to high-quality healthcare at an affordable price is imperative

Having been born and raised in Opelika, I have seen our society grow and change as I face both good and bad times. The last two years have been particularly difficult for so many of us, and they have affected our family and friends, our small businesses and careers, our children’s schooling and – perhaps most importantly – 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 has been exposed by the coronavirus pandemic is the need for affordable, quality health care and coverage. Congress stepped in to address Americans’ inability to access affordable coverage earlier this year when it included a provision that improved subsidies for health insurance premiums in the U.S. Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). That relief has made a big difference.

Over 40,000 Alabama were recently eligible for tax deductions through ARPA. This meant that families throughout our state had a new opportunity to access health coverage in the federal marketplace that they could more comfortably afford. During a special enrollment period from February to May this year, 25,127 Alabama residents signed up for marketplace coverage.

With so many Americans being economically affected by the pandemic when jobs were lost and businesses shut down, 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 disappear. Still, those grants are set to expire at the end of next year, which would leave 40,000 Alabama residents without the opportunity to access the coverage they deserve.

Fortunately, Congress currently has the opportunity to make health coverage grants permanent in this year’s budget voting package. A recent study by the Urban Institute shows that if the grants are made permanent this year, 58,000 uninsured Alabama residents could access care through the federal marketplace next year.

By making the extended tax deductions 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 allow millions of low- and middle-income Americans to to achieve critical health coverage and care that was out of their reach even before the pandemic took hold. Additionally, making these tax deductions permanent would potentially provide the coverage gap for states like Alabama that have not expanded Medicaid.

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We are fortunate to have representatives on Capitol Hill as Representative Terri Sewell, who has long advocated for the best interests of our community. Right now, it is important that Congress ensures that every American family has the opportunity not only to recover from the devastation of the pandemic, but to grow and thrive.

Expanding access to affordable health care and insurance by making health insurance subsidies permanent this year is a critical first step.

Jeremy Gray represents District 83 of the Alabama House of Representatives.

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