Shaheen Introduces Legislation to Ensure Maximum Financial Assistance for Those Enrolled in ACA Exchange Plans Amid COVID-19

May 17, 2020

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) introduced legislation with Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Ed Markey (D-MA) that would prevent individuals who are collecting enhanced federal unemployment compensation from losing access to financial assistance for the cost of premiums for Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplace plans.

The bill also temporarily suspends the repayment burden of excess advance premium tax credits. For those eligible for advance premium tax credits or cost-sharing reductions for ACA marketplace plans, the $600 weekly bump in federal unemployment benefits could result in reduced financial assistance for their health insurance during the current COVID-19 pandemic when affordable, quality health insurance is essential. Due to the uncertainty of employment during this public health emergency, eliminating the repayment burden of excess advance premium tax credits will help unemployed consumers manage what they may owe in the 2021 and 2022 tax seasons if they end up with a higher annual income than they had expected.

“This legislation is a commonsense solution to ensure that Granite Staters and Americans across the country can access expanded unemployment benefits without having to lose financial assistance for the cost of health insurance premiums,” said Senator Shaheen. “As we navigate this crisis, we need to make changes to the law wherever possible to help families weather this storm in the weeks and months ahead.”

The CARES Act included a $600 weekly add-on in federal unemployment compensation. This $600/week in unemployment compensation is not included in monthly income when determining an individual’s Medicaid and CHIP eligibility. However, it currently counts towards a consumer’s annual income when determining financial assistance (premium tax credit or cost-sharing reductions) for ACA marketplace plans. Exempting the $600/week federal UI payment from annual income will increase the amount of financial assistance unemployed consumers will qualify for, thereby lowering a consumer’s monthly health insurance premium or out-of-pocket costs. The legislation also protects those who may, for the first time, qualify for financial assistance for ACA marketplace plans due to the $600 weekly add-on.

In April 2019, Shaheen led all 47 Senate Democrats, including Senator Hassan, on a Senate resolution that would reverse the Department of Justice’s decision to side with a U.S. District Court ruling deeming health care protections relied upon by millions of Americans unconstitutional. The resolution came on the heels of her health care affordability package, which includes three pieces of legislation that would reduce health care costs for patients and expand access to critical medical services. Together, the Marketplace Certainty ActImproving Health Insurance Affordability Act and Reducing Costs for Out-of-Network Services Act would make essential reforms to the health care law that would help stabilize the marketplace, lower premiums and deductibles for middle-class families and combat escalating out-of-pocket health care costs. 

Senator Shaheen has led efforts in the Senate to stabilize the health insurance markets and make health care affordable and accessible for all Americans. She introduced the Marketing and Outreach Restoration to Empower (MORE) Health Education Act with Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Gary Peters (D-MI) to counteract Trump administration sabotage efforts that have slashed health care enrollment advertising and marketing by 90 percent since the President took office. She also introduced the Protecting Americans with Pre-existing Conditions Act with Senators Mark Warner (D-VA), Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) to prevent the Trump administration from using federal premium tax credits to promote and incentivize enrollment in “junk plans” that do not provide coverage of pre-existing conditions or essential health benefits.

Text of the legislation is available for download here.