The main initial contribution for these efforts was the financial inclusion measures that the Committee on Ways and Means included in the American Rescue Plan. We need to build on this now by making these lower premiums permanent. We must close the Medicaid coverage gap by taking a step where Republican politicians have been unable to act for a decade. And we can expand the Medicare benefit package to include coverage for missing benefits such as vision, dentistry, and hearing care. We cannot restore the best if we do not comprehensively address the long-standing health inequities that underlie our systems.
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that we are nothing without our health, and now is the time to build on the Affordable Care Act and strengthen our country’s health care system. Studies in the early months of the pandemic showed that every 10% increase in the proportion of county residents without health insurance was associated with a 70% increase in COVID-19 cases and a 48% increase in COVID-19 deaths. Nationally, about one in every three COVID-19 deaths is associated with health insurance gaps. More than 40% of all COVID-19 infections are associated with health insurance gaps.
During the pandemic, millions of Americans lost their jobs through no fault of their own and faced serious health and economic problems. Fortunately, they were able to access affordable, high-quality health insurance options thanks to ARP and a special enrollment period set by President Joe Biden. Since taking office earlier this year, more than 2.5 million Americans have signed up for coverage. The Ways and Means Committee also gave these unemployed COBRA subsidies and those without employer insurance a new ACA unemployment benefit to help them stay insured during this difficult time. When Americans lose their jobs, they don’t have to worry about whether they can continue to pay for health care.
We need to build on what we’ve adopted in ARP and complete the work to make these provisions permanent, dramatically expanding access to affordable insurance coverage for families. Since April 2021, over a million Americans have opted for a plan that costs them $ 10 or less per month thanks to reductions in premiums.
We must also recognize that older people and people with disabilities are most affected by the pandemic, highlighting the need to increase investment in services that provide them with support and care. Earlier this year, I re-enacted the Elder Justice Re-authorization and Modernization Act to update the law and end the rampant abuse, neglect, and exploitation that are all too common for vulnerable Americans.
But Americans across the spectrum of care need support. Recognizing that millions of Americans find their home in nursing facilities, I introduced the Nursing Home Improvement and Accountability Act to improve quality and safety in these facilities, which suffered devastation during the COVID crisis.
Our country will recover from this pandemic and the many consequences of COVID-19 will stay with us for years to come, but we have the tools to transform our healthcare system into the one the American people deserve – one based on access and affordability.