(Editor’s note: The author is running for the Democratic nomination for lt. gov. We will occasionally publish op-eds from Republican and Democrat candidates.)
I’m honored to live out the legacy of my father, Leon W. Hall, who dedicated most of his life to the civil rights movement while working alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. My father worked tirelessly for justice and equality, and I carry that same vigor with me today as I continue my own public service journey — serving on the Atlanta City Council, representing the people of Georgia’s 5th District in Congress while carrying out the late Congressman John Lewis’ term, and now as a candidate for lieutenant governor of Georgia.
There is much work to be done, and I look forward to advocating for greater opportunity, equity and justice in every corner of the Peach State.
One critical area where we need to improve is ensuring equity and accessibility within our healthcare system. Challenges that hinder access to timely, cost-effective health care are still a significant barrier holding many communities back from reaching their full potential. It’s far past time that policymakers on the state and federal level focus on issues related to health care affordability.
We’ve made progress in recent years to help more people afford health care, namely through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and other efforts to bring more people into the insurance marketplace. But the reality is that too many people still don’t have access to affordable options that enable them to live healthy, robust lives. We need to turn the tide on this issue, quickly.
Swift action is necessary because a critical benefit that was created under the ACA is at risk of expiring for millions of Americans at the end of this year. Health care tax credits built into the 2021 American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) that have helped more than 127,000 previously uninsured Georgians afford health care during the turbulent times of the pandemic may soon vanish if they’re not written into law permanently. If we want to keep more Georgians insured and safeguard a future where no individual is left without affordable care options, it’s imperative that we reach this goal with haste — and make these health insurance subsidies permanent for everyone as soon as possible.
I applaud U.S. Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock for helping to expand these tax credits by voting in favor of ARPA last year. We know that 14.9 million Americans are utilizing and relying upon these subsidies to afford health care expenses. In Georgia, I was encouraged to see that 36 percent more residents signed up for health plans in 2022 than in 2021. This is a clear sign that health subsidies are working — more people are signing up for coverage, and we’re on track to bring even more people into the insurance marketplace.
This momentum could be stopped in its tracks, though, if our legislators do not get serious about making the subsidies expanded by ARPA permanent. I’m especially concerned that the largest financial burden will inevitably fall upon disadvantaged communities in Georgia where the need for affordable healthcare is greatest. According to a report by the Kaiser Family Foundation, if ARPA subsidies expire, enrollees with the lowest incomes will see the biggest health care cost increases. With 42 percent of enrollees at income levels between 1 and 1.5 times the poverty level, letting these subsidies lapse would yield a harmful outcome for these individuals that makes it critical to make these subsidies permanent as soon as possible. These individuals may soon not be able to afford health care because they can’t cover the cost. That’s why our leaders need to work with urgency to see that these subsidies are made permanent.
With determination and collaboration, we can continue making great strides in our Georgia communities to improve equity in every part of our society. But if we do not address the looming threat to health care subsidies that could force thousands of Georgians out of the insurance marketplace, we will be thwarting equal opportunity for success and longevity for many Georgia communities.
We need permanent healthcare subsidies now, and the need for action could not be more imperative.
Kwanza Hall is a former Atlanta City Councilman, former U.S. representative and current Democratic Party candidate for lieutenant governor.