Expanding insurance coverage is a top priority for the new CMS administrator

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The new head of the federal agency, which oversees health benefits for nearly 150 million Americans and $ 1 trillion in federal spending, said in one of her first interviews that expanding coverage and ensuring health equity will be her top priorities.

“We saw a pandemic, what happens when people don’t have health insurance, and how important it is,” said Chiquita Brooks-LaSour, who was approved by the Senate to chair the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on May 25 and was sworn in on May 27. “Our focus will be on ensuring that regulations and policies are focused on improving coverage.”

It’s an abrupt transition from the Trump administration, which has pushed the agency to spearhead efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act and phase out Medicaid, a federal-level program for low-income people.

Brooks-LaSour, whose agency oversees the ACA markets in addition to Medicare, Medicaid and the Child Health Insurance Program, said it was not surprised by the strong use of ACA coverage since President Joe Biden. resumption of reception in January. The administration announced last month that more than 1 million people have already subscribed.

“Over the past couple of years, I have worked with many markets in the states, and we could see the difference in registrations when the states actively promoted coverage,” she said. Brooks-LaSour, a former congressional and Obama administration medical officer, was most recently the managing director of the consulting firm Manatt Health. “I believe most people who are not enrolled want” coverage but may not understand that it is available or how to get it, ”she said. “It’s about knowledge and accessibility.”

Brooks-LaSour also suggested that the administration will support Congress efforts to reach millions of Americans with the so-called Medicaid gap. These are people in a dozen states that have not expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act but earn too little to qualify for ACA coverage. Georgia Democrat Senator John Ossoff and Rafael Warnock, whose GOP government did not expand the program, are calling for new federal program to cover those who fall into the hole.

Brooks-LaSure said she would prefer the states to use additional incentive financing envisaged in the recent American Rescue Plan to expand their Medicaid programs, “because ideally states can develop policies in their own states; they are closest to the earth. ” But if the states do not accept the offer – until none of them have accepted – “public choice or other coverage will certainly be a strategy to ensure that people in these states are insured,” she said.

Also close to her radar deals with the looming insolvency of the trust fund, which funds much of Medicare. The economic downturn last year and the associated loss of employee withholding taxes will likely accelerate the date when Medicare health insurance program won’t be able to pay all my bills.

Brooks-LaSour said she is confident that she and Congress will take the time to this next year, but the discussions could also give officials an opportunity to review Medicare and consider extending benefits. Congressional Democrats are looking at both lowering the Medicare age and additional benefits that the program lacks, including dental, hearing and vision coverage.

“I hope that when we look at the ability to pay, we really focus on making Medicare sustainable,” Brooks-LaSour said. “And that could mean some changes that will strengthen the program.”

Kaiser Health News national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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