By Lauren Flynn Kelly

As the novel coronavirus erupted across the U.S. and created a widespread economic downturn, it led to increased enrollment in state Medicaid programs and created devastating budget shortfalls for states. Yet Congress’ latest pandemic relief effort — the Consolidated Appropriations Act signed by President Donald Trump on Dec. 27 — does not include direct financial help for states, which are now rolling out newly authorized COVID-19 vaccines with limited resources and guidance from the federal government.

Earlier legislation, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, afforded states a temporary increase of 6.2% in their federal match rate, yet multiple stakeholders have beseeched Congress to enact another temporary boost during the public health emergency.

In a Dec. 14 letter to President-elect Joe Biden, Medicaid Health Plans of America President and CEO Craig Kennedy said that securing an additional Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) increase of at least 5.8% (for a total increase of 12%) remains the trade group’s top legislative priority. To minimize disruptions in care, MHPA urged the incoming administration to immediately extend the public health emergency beyond its Jan. 20 expiration date and enact an additional FMAP increase at least through September 2021.

“There is no question that the new administration will push hard to increase funding for state Medicaid,” predicts Avalere Health Founder Dan Mendelson. “Generally, the new administration will want to expand coverage and work with the states to get that done.”

Jerry Vitti, CEO and founder of Healthcare Financial, Inc., agrees that making states whole will be a Biden priority. “This is not a blue state/red state divide. Every state has these problems, and it’s the double whammy of the decreased revenue at a time where your expenses are going way up because people need social services programs, they need Medicaid, their health care systems are strained, they have to distribute vaccines — all these associated costs need to be covered.”

Meanwhile, as the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted so many disparities in health care, Medicaid MCOs will be expected to take concrete action to bridge care gaps, especially in communities of color, experts agree.

“With people of color comprising over half of Medicaid enrollees, 2020 has been a reckoning: COVID-19 and health disparities have made it so much more deadly for them….Medicaid MCOs will need to innovate to address equity issues,” says Abner Mason, founder and CEO of ConsejoSano.