18 Feb News You Need: Insurance, Student Loans, Housing, COVID, & More
As the new presidential administration, a new Congress, and new state elected officials address the COVID-19 pandemic and their regular business, we are seeing many new proposed laws and regulations that may impact the cancer community. Triage Cancer remains committed to bringing you the news that might impact the cancer community.
Healthcare.gov will be open for a Special Enrollment Period (SEP) from February 15, 2021 to May 15, 2021. In the 36 states with Marketplaces served by HealthCare.gov, individuals will have the opportunity to purchase a new health insurance policy or change policies. Most of the 14 states and DC that run their own marketplaces will be open as well, but the dates may be different. You can visit www.healthcare.gov or https://triagecancer.org/statelaws to link to your state’s information.
National Paid Family Medical Leave:
A proposed bill in the U.S. Senate would grant workers up to 12 weeks of paid leave to recover from illness or childbirth, or to care for a loved one. Currently, the Family Medical Leave Act provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to qualified workers. A number of states have their own paid family leave laws and you can visit Triage Cancer’s Chart of State Laws to learn more: https://TriageCancer.org/StateLaws
Payments and interest on student loans backed by the federal government are suspended through September 30, 2021. This suspension began in March 2020 and has been extended a number of times. Certain loans held by commercial lenders or by your school may not be suspended. Find more information and a tool to check who holds your loan here.
Renters may be covered by a federal eviction moratorium (a pause on some kinds of evictions) through March 31, 2021. There are state and local protections and financial assistance programs too. Learn more here.
Borrowers with mortgages that are backed by the federal government can request forbearance (a pause on payments) through February 28, 2021. There are some protections against foreclosure (loss of your home) available too. Find your protections and options here.
The U.S. Senate introduced a bill that would increase bankruptcy protections for those who file due to medical costs or who have lost their jobs and health insurance. The proposed law would simplify the bankruptcy process for filers whose financial troubles were caused by medical costs that were out of their control. It would also expand eligibility to discharge student loan debt, currently very hard to obtain.
Medicare & Colonoscopies:
Congress recently passed the Removing Barriers to Colorectal Screening Act, which fixes a problem in Medicare coverage that caused unexpected bills for patients when a polyp is removed during a screening colonoscopy. Under the Affordable Care Act, Medicare recipients can get free colonoscopy screenings. But if polyps are removed during the procedure, Medicare treats the colonoscopy as diagnostic, rather than screening, which increases out-of-pocket costs for patients. The new law phases out these costs beginning January 1, 2022, when patients will only pay 20% of the costs of this procedure. Patients pay 15% from 2023 to 2026, 10% from 2027 to 2029, and then the cost to the patient is gone by 2030.
- Vaccine: Check this site to see vaccine-related information, including the number of vaccines distributed and administered by state, which phase your state is in for distribution, and which populations are currently eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
- Funeral Costs: The federal government will soon have a program to reimburse families for funeral costs related to COVID-19. The program expects to make applications available “within the next couple of months.” Families who provide documentation of funeral costs and evidence that a family member died from COVID-19 may be reimbursed for up to $7,000. The program currently applies to funerals that took place in 2020, although lawmakers hope to extend the program through the end of the pandemic. The funds will be available for all families regardless of immigration status.
- Workplace Protections: The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) released new guidance about COVID-19 and the workplace. While not a law or regulation, the guidance is advice and information to help employers provide a safe workplace during the pandemic. The cancer community is paying attention to these areas of the guidance:
- Workers with disabilities may be legally entitled to reasonable accommodations that protect them from COVID-19.
- Employers should encourage workers to report COVID-19 symptoms, exposures, and hazards in the workplace without fear of retaliation.
- Workers who are infected or potentially infected should be encouraged to stay home without retaliation.
- Vaccinated and not vaccinated workers should be treated the same, and expected to follow safety measures like face coverings, hand washing, and distancing. Vaccinated people can still be carriers of COVID-19 and infect others.
- As employers make vaccines available to workers, or encourage or require vaccinations, policies, guidelines, and laws will continue to evolve. Workers with other medical conditions such as cancer can take care to protect their medical information. Learn about disclosure in the workplace here: https://triagecancer.org/QuickGuide-Disclosure
- Avoid Scams: Scammers are increasing their activity during the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn about the common scams and how to avoid them here.
California renters may be protected by a moratorium on evictions through June 30, 2021. While rent remains due, renters who qualify based on an inability to pay due to COVID-19 can be protected from eviction. The state is rolling out an assistance program called Housing is Key. Both renters and landlords can use the program to learn about their rights, find the forms they need, and access financial assistance.
Mississippi’s state legislature fails to expand Medicaid again. Mississippi is one of only 12 twelve states that have not expanded access to Medicaid to adults who are up to 138% of the federal poverty level ($17,774 for an individual in 2021). This leaves millions of people without health coverage, who should have gotten coverage under the Affordable Care Act.
Kansas proposes to expand Medicaid – and pay for it by legalizing medical marijuana. New legislation would expand Medicaid eligibility to those who are up to 138% of federal poverty level by January 1, 2022. This would provide health insurance coverage to group of people who currently lack access. The legislation proposes to legalize medical marijuana and use revenue from the sales as a way to raise the money needed for the expansion. Medical marijuana is prescribed for conditions such as PTSD, cancer, and epilepsy.
New Mexico and Virginia want to require employers to offer paid sick leave to employees.
- In New Mexico, a proposed law passed a committee in the state’s House of Representatives. If it becomes law, all employers in New Mexico regardless of size would have to offer paid sick leave – about 8 days per year. Next up is consideration by the full House.
- In Virginia, a bill has passed the House of Delegates that would require employers with 25 or more employees to offer at least 5 days of sick leave to “front line” employees, which includes domestic workers, child care providers, and home health workers. The bill next faces tough opposition in Virginia’s Senate.
- Some other states and cities have paid sick leave laws, which can be found here: TriageCancer.org/StateLaws
Arkansas passed a new law to regulate step therapy protocols. Health benefit plans increasingly require patients to try less expensive prescription drugs before covering the drugs chosen by the health care provider. This practice, known as step therapy, can save money but sometimes results in patients not receiving the most appropriate treatment. If the Governor signed the law, it will take effect January 1, 2022 and require that any step therapy be based on well-developed scientific standards and provide a clear way for patients to ask for and receive exceptions.
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