Watch the AMA's daily COVID-19 update, with insights from AMA leaders and experts about the pandemic.
AMA President Susan R. Bailey, MD, and Peter V. Lee, executive director of Covered California, discuss the importance of health care coverage for all Americans and how to get coverage before the Dec. 15, 2020, deadline.
Access the digital toolkit and resources at GetCovered2021.org.
Learn more at the AMA COVID-19 resource center.
- Susan R. Bailey, MD, president, AMA
- Peter V. Lee, executive director, Covered California
Unger: Hello, this is the American Medical Association's COVID-19 Update. Today we're talking about Get Covered 2021, a national initiative urging Americans to mask up and get insurance. I'm joined today by Dr. Susan Bailey, AMA's president and an allergist and immunologist in Fort Worth, Texas, and Peter V. Lee, co-chair, Get Covered 2021 and Executive Director of Covered California in Sacramento. I'm Todd Unger, AMA's chief experience officer in Chicago. Dr. Bailey, for starters, can you tell us a little bit about Get Covered 2021 and how the AMA is involved?
Dr. Bailey: Yes. Get Covered 2021 is a new national coalition that's aimed at helping uninsured Americans enroll in health service and to promote COVID-19 safe practices. It's a nonpartisan effort of the states involved, patient and community organizations, other medical societies, including the AMA. And during the COVID-19 pandemic, I can't think of a worst time to not have health insurance and physicians really need to help their patients with that. And we have an opportunity to spread the word, and ensure that patients and their families have the health coverage they need in this new year, and especially it's important, as millions of Americans have lost their employer sponsored coverage to the pandemic and may be unaware of what's out there for them.
Unger: Mr. Lee, how has the COVID pandemic era affected insurance coverage and the need for what you're doing right now?
Lee: Well, a couple of things. First, we're really excited about this initiative because it really has brought together physician leaders but also folks from hospitals, patient advocacy groups, like the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, with one agenda. Look, COVID's re-surging across the nation, we all got to wear a mask and getting that word out from the most trusted voices, doctors, is what we need to hear. But second, there's a boatload of Americans, 16 million, eligible for financial help today that are uninsured, and you do not want to be uninsured during a pandemic. And so that's what this initiative is about, getting everyone talking to each other, but in particular here from trusted voices, like the docs around the country.
Unger: Well, let's dig into that a little bit more. Dr. Bailey, can you add some context for how many people are currently without insurance in our country and how widespread is this problem?
Dr. Bailey: Todd, it's a widespread issue. Now, the ACA has been very successful in reducing the number of uninsured from about 45 million to about 28 million people, but like Peter said, 16 million of them, more than half, are actually eligible for subsidies or other types of coverage. And with the president-elect committing to building on the ACA, which is also AMA policy, Get Covered 2021 is focused on those 16 million patients who are actually eligible for coverage now.
Lee: So, let me build on it, if I could. Covered California is a state-based marketplace for the state of California, but most of the country is served by something called healthcare.gov. And there are right now about seven million Americans eligible for Medicaid, which is free across the country, and about nine million eligible for subsidies in these state-based marketplaces or in the federal marketplaces that support places like Texas, where the good doctor's from, but Florida, much of the nation. Those people on average though, they're spending $130 a month for their coverage, they're getting subsidies that on average over $700 a month. It's making health care affordable. And boy, we all know health care is expensive in America. We all need a leg up. That's what we want to do though with the Get Covered 2021, let Americans that are eligible today know what they can get, and get them signed up.
Unger: Well let me just ask you, Mr. Lee, with that kind of subsidy, why is it such a challenge to get people to enroll? Are there health inequities that are involved here?
Lee: Well, it's a really good question. I mean I get this all the time. And so, in California, we're a state-based marketplace. We raise money from a little fee on our health plans. We spend over $150 million a year just in California to promote coverage because people don't know where to go, people are confused. And by doing that, more people sign up, which means you lower the cost—healthier respects. Unfortunately, in the last few years, the current administration has decided to not invest anything in marketing and outreach. So, we have 16 million Americans, most of whom don't know what's out there, don't know that they can get signed up now for Medicaid, signed up now for those subsidies to pick a private plan that's right for them. And so, what we're doing is now getting celebrities, getting athletes, getting elected officials, Republicans and Democrats, we're saying this isn't political it's an available benefit. Now, let's get people signed up.
Unger: Wow, that's really a change in terms of the ability to get the word out. It takes a lot of money to get people informed and get them to move, so you have a challenge in front of you, Dr. Bailey, why is today particularly meaningful for Get Covered 2021?
Dr. Bailey: Well, it just so happens that today, December the 10th, is Get Covered America Day. So, the goal is to bring attention to this issue and to encourage physicians to talk to their patients about getting coverage, as well as talking to their patients about COVID-19 public health safety maneuvers. Everyone needs to wear a mask. Everybody needs to wash their hands, keep their distance. And so what we're doing is we're getting a social media campaign going and Get Covered as urging everyone to post a picture of themselves on their social media site wearing a mask, sharing the website, getcovered2021.org, or using the hashtag #GetCovered2021.
Lee: So, I'll come back to this question about how expensive it is. Look buying TV time, really expensive, but getting Americans to talk to one another on social media, which we're all on, Facebook, Instagram, that doesn't cost a lot. It takes people and a little bit of elbow grease. So if you're a doctor, you go to getcovered2021.org, there's a toolkit with tools that you can go into it and say, "Hey, I want to share this nice image on my Facebook site. I want to share this with all of my patients." They're going to listen to you. And whether you're a doctor, whether you're an athlete, whether you're a celebrity, we want people talking to one another. And again, there's no voice more trusted than America's doctors. So, we think you're the voice that they'll listen to first. And it's not over after Get Covered America Day, which is the 10th. We're going to be doing this work throughout the end of December and going into January to put some wind in the sails of the effort to really build on the Affordable Care Act.
Unger: It is so important. And so, if you're watching out there and you have a chance to share this message on your own social media network, please do. Mr. Lee, you mentioned mask wearing a couple times before as part of the Get Covered effort. Can you tell us a little bit more about that piece of the initiative?
Lee: Well, I can, I mean I'll put mine on, is that we'd hoped to mail these out to all the docs. We haven't yet, but we've got masks out here being worn by elected officials, Republican and Democrat, across the nation. In California, we've actually mailed masks out, very much like this, to every one of the members of the California Medical Association. So, 10,000 members of the California Academy of Family Physicians to communicate. Why? We all need to get the message out that wearing a mask isn't about politics, it's about public health, it's about what we need to do. So, this initiative, Get Covered 2021, is a try to make it the new normal for every American to wear a mask. We know a vaccine's coming around the corner. We aren't there yet. Now's the time to not let down our guard.
Unger: Well, Dr. Bailey, last question. Can you give us the key talking points for physicians who want to help get this message out as soon as possible?
Dr. Bailey: Well first, know the deadlines. The deadlines in 36 states is December the 15th, so there's still time to enroll, but it's critical that physicians start getting the word out now. December 15th is not very far away. And the remaining 14 states have extended deadlines through mid to late January, but still it's really better not to wait. And if a patient already has coverage, or if they have previous coverage, they may not want to choose the same coverage. They may have options to change to a different type of coverage. Many plans have automatic re-enrollment, which is great because that means you don't get stuck without coverage, but you might have more affordable pricing or more options on a new plan, so it really helps to check it out. It's really always a good idea to shop around for different plans.
Unger: Mr. Lee, any final thoughts?
Lee: A couple, really quick. Number one, encouraging your patients to wear a mask is really important. We aren't done. Second, I'd encourage you think about talking to your patients about the vaccine. We want people to take the vaccine. It will have gone through the most rigorous FDA review you can imagine, and some are still wondering should they take it? We need to take medicine out of the political playing field. And third, as you heard so clear from Dr. Bailey, get insurance coverage. Now, that deadline for much of the nation is December 15. Get people to check it out. If you go to getcovered2021.org, you can with one click find your state and get enrolled now. But if you miss the 15th of December, check again, because a lot of people are eligible for Medicaid which is open year-round. So, getting covered is something we should all be caring about. And I just got to give a huge call out of thanks to the AMA. The AMA is stepping up and putting patients first in this initiative, and I'm really proud to be part of this.
Unger: Well, thank you so much for being here. Again, that's getcovered2021.org. Deadlines are next week, so please check that out now. Dr. Bailey, Mr. Lee, thanks so much for being with us here today and sharing this very, very important message. We'll be back with another COVID-19 update tomorrow. In the meantime, for resources on COVID-19 visit ama-assn.org/covid-19. Thank you and take care.
Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed in this video are those of the participants and/or do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the AMA.