Little noticed during the debate over Alabama’s plan to pay for new prisons using $400 million in federal pandemic relief funds was the fact that more than $38 million in coronavirus relief has already been allocated to the state’s hospitals.
Alabama hospitals still care for just over 900 COVID-19 patients across the state, even as the total number of coronavirus cases has been declining since the beginning of September. Around one-third of ICU beds this week are occupied by patients with COVID-19.
Eighty-two of Alabama’s health care centers have received coronavirus relief funding. Designated for personal protective equipment, cleaning, even payroll, the funding has also gone a long way to helping the more than 800,000 residents of Alabama who contracted the virus over the last year and a half—many of whom needed urgent medical care.
Gov. Kay Ivey has repeatedly expressed her commitment to aiding Alabama’s most at risk.
“Protecting our most vulnerable citizens remains a priority for my administration,” Ivey said in a statement when the coronavirus funding was announced last year for healthcare providers. “My team and I will continue working hard to get it directly to those individuals and groups who have been impacted.”
Health Insurance Relief
Alabama’s citizens have also received additional assistance by another program that was expanded during the pandemic. The American Rescue Plan Act this year extended tax credits to help pay for health insurance on the federal marketplace.
Currently, Congress is debating whether this program and dozens of others should be included in next year’s federal budget. For many, the issue is particularly urgent because the subsidies are set to expire next year.
More than 1.3 million state residents have enrolled in the insurance marketplace since it was started in 2014, an average of about 160,000 people each year—who do not have access to employer coverage or who are self-employed.
Last year, a total of more than $1.03 billion in health insurance tax credits went to Alabama residents who were enrolled in the marketplace to help pay for vital health insurance. With the passage of ARPA, more than 40,000 of Alabama’s uninsured — among the state’s most vulnerable — were made newly eligible for tax credits.
Alabama Democratic Congresswoman Terri Sewell, who represents the state’s 7th District, has already cast a preliminary vote to extend the subsidies. From her seat on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, she voted in favor of legislation that includes an extension of the expanded premium tax credits to help lower insurance costs.
Sewell said the vote was about “expanding access” to health care.
Making The Healthcare Subsidies Permanent
At least two respected Washington think tanks have released findings about the future of these health insurance subsidies and their impact on access to care.
The Kaiser Family Foundation’s KFF news service reports “premium payments could double for millions of marketplace enrollees” if the subsidies are allowed to expire.
The Urban Institute reports that more than 400,000 of Alabama’s uninsured could lose out on better access to care next year if subsidies are not made permanent.
Congress is expected to hammer out its budget negotiations for most of the rest of the year.
For now, investments for access to healthcare stand at a critical moment.