The open enrollment period to sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) started on November 1 and continues through January 15. This period allows individuals without existing health coverage to enroll in a private insurance plan or Medicaid – all in one place. As the nation continues to contend with the COVID-19 pandemic, it is more critical than ever for our people to be able to access adequate health care.
The ACA has become an essential feature of West Virginia’s wellness over the past decade. Over one-third of non-elderly West Virginians have pre-existing conditions, outpacing every other state in the country. Amongst other provisions, the ACA improved these residents’ health outcomes by ensuring that insurance companies could not charge them higher premiums than those without pre-existing conditions.
Furthermore, the Medicaid expansion included in the ACA allowed more than 200,000 residents to gain access to health care since its implementation in 2014. This year alone, as West Virginia experienced historic unemployment levels, the state enrolled over 50,000 new people in Medicaid. This notable figure highlights how integral Medicaid and the ACA will continue to be as the pandemic persists.
At the peak of the crisis, about 130,000 West Virginians lost their employer-sponsored health insurance. Roughly 98,000 of them are eligible for Medicaid, with another 27,000 eligible for marketplace subsidies according to estimates issued by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
The health insurance marketplace on healthcare.gov allows individuals whose incomes are too high for Medicaid eligibility and who do not receive health coverage through an employer to sign up for coverage through private insurers. Although marketplace enrollment has declined in the past several years, West Virginia experienced significant employment losses due to the pandemic, leading to the creation of a new pool of people who could acquire health insurance through the marketplace. Despite some economic recovery, the workforce is still down 27,700 jobs relative to this time last year. Given these circumstances, many people may shop for individual health coverage for the first time, which could reverse the declining enrollment trend that has persisted since 2016.
The ACA has also been meaningful for West Virginia’s economy, directly or indirectly contributing 16,000 jobs to the state. The overall health care industry makes up one-tenth of the state economy, and it continues to outperform every other sector. The Medicaid expansion alone contributes one billion federal dollars to the state economy every year, illustrating just one of several ways in which the ACA has invested in West Virginians.
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