In order to protect Coloradans as the coronavirus spread, many businesses had to shut down, which led to unprecedented job losses in our state. Over the last few months, federal assistance for families and businesses has not met the moment. But there is a way for our elected officials, and in particular Republican Senator Cory Gardner, to do more for Coloradans: Denounce the lawsuit to tear down the Affordable Care Act and pass legislation to provide support for state, local and tribal governments.
Unlike in too many other states, Colorado’s governor reopened the Affordable Care Act’s open enrollment period at the outset of the pandemic. This gave those who either lost their employer-provided health insurance or who didn’t have insurance the option to quickly get coverage. This also led to a surge in Medicaid enrollment, reflecting newly unemployed or previously uninsured people who now qualified for the program. According to the Denver Post, over half a million Coloradans will join government health insurance programs, primarily Medicaid, by the end of the year. As the number of people on Medicaid in Colorado rapidly expands to over 1.3 million, we must ensure that the program remains accessible and properly funded.
Medicaid covers Coloradans of all ages, not just kids and the elderly. My son is on Medicaid. Since he works in the service and entertainment industries, he could not get employer-provided health insurance for years. It wasn’t until the Affordable Care Act became law that my son could get coverage. And my son is not alone. Now, in the midst of a pandemic, Medicaid acts as a backstop for those who have lost their job or who are unable to afford other health insurance programs. Knowing that Senator Gardner does not support the ACA, which includes Medicaid expansion, is simply unfathomable.
While our state government is stepping up to expand Medicaid enrollment, and provide a lifeline to tens of thousands of Coloradans, the federal government is failing to do its part. To help offset the funding gap, co-pays for Medicaid services were increased by the state legislature.
Increasing co-pays and the cost of Medicaid services, while needed in this case, places a larger financial strain on low-income families. There’s a risk that some families may skip out entirely on needed treatments, prescriptions and even vaccinations. While the state had to take these steps to off-set the large budget deficit (another side effect of the pandemic), this doesn’t mean that nothing can be done. The federal government can provide assistance and take some of the weight off of Coloradans.
Senator Gardner is close allies with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Gardner has the influence to push him to get a relief fund passed to quickly give assistance to states. Instead, McConnell has decided that there will not be any additional relief considered by the Senate until at least July.
Currently, a dangerous, Republican-backed lawsuit threatens to destroy the ACA and rip coverage away from millions of Coloradans during a pandemic. Instead of supporting this lawsuit and attacking the ACA and Medicaid, Gardner should be securing more funding for Medicaid for the state so that we can meet the health care needs of Coloradans.
We are in the middle of a national pandemic that doesn’t appear to be subsiding anytime soon. We need Senator Gardner to do everything possible to not only protect Medicaid coverage for the 1.3 million Coloradans who are covered by it, but to also actively fight and lead in helping Colorado to get the money it needs to protect the health care of every Coloradan.
Polly Baca is a former Colorado State Senator. She was the first woman of color elected to the state senate. She currently sits on the Rocky Mountain Values Advisory Council.