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Public health, COVID-19, coronavirus, legal responses, pandemic, medicaid, public insurance


Medicaid plays an essential role in helping states respond to crises. Medicaid guarantees federal matching funds to states, which helps with unanticipated costs associated with public health emergencies, like COVID-19, and increases in enrollment that inevitably occur during times of economic downturn. Medicaid’s joint federal/state structure, called cooperative federalism, gives states significant flexibility within federal rules that allows states to streamline eligibility and expand benefits, which is especially important during emergencies. Federal emergency declarations give the secretary of Health and Human Services temporary authority to exercise regulatory flexibility to ensure that sufficient health care is available to meet the needs of those impacted. Under federal guidance, states have implemented a variety of options to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, Congress enacted short-term legislative responses that increase federal funding for Medicaid and open new pathways for eligibility and payment for some COVID-19 testing. These responses have softened the double blow of the pandemic and its attendant recession, but more federal and state action is necessary. Congress should enact an increase in federal funding that lasts beyond the public health emergency to help states ride out the economic impact of the pandemic; provide extra funding to encourage states to adopt Medicaid expansion; offer states more funding for enrollment efforts to reach newly uninsured populations; and require state and local demographic data collection as a condition of federal funding to inform evidence-based public health efforts. State governments should use all available emergency flexibility options to streamline application and enrollment processes and take advantage of increased federal funding possibilities.

This paper was prepared as part of Assessing Legal Responses to COVID-19, a comprehensive report published by Public Health Law Watch in partnership with the de Beaumont Foundation and the American Public Health Association.