Impact of End of COVID-19 Public Health Emergency Policies

with Maria Town of the American Association of People with Disabilities

In May 2023, the National Public Health Emergency for COVID-19 ended, which resulted in the end of some services and health care policy changes.

Maria Town, President and CEO of the American Association of People with Disabilities, joins host Tetiana Anderson to discuss the impact of these changes on vulnerable populations and people with disabilities.

Posted on:

October 01, 2023

Hosted by: Tetiana Anderson
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Anderson: On May 11, 2023, the Biden administration ended the national public health emergency for COVID-19, returning life for many Americans to a sense of pre-pandemic normalcy. But, for some people with disabilities, the unwinding of specific policy changes can directly impact their health coverage. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Medicaid enrollment and eligibility rules were expanded to promote continuous health insurance for those in need. But since the public health emergency has come to an end, so have those changes. That is putting many older adults and people with disabilities at risk of losing their coverage. Joining me to talk all about this and more is Maria Town. She is president and CEO of the American Association of People with Disabilities. And, Maria, thank you so much for being here.

Town: Thank you for having me.

Anderson: So, I want to start with the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency. Where did this really leave people with disabilities? What kinds of things are they facing as a result?

Town: Well, to be honest, it left us stranded. We are still facing a pandemic where thousands of people are dying a week, and we have fewer tools to manage our own health and safety. You pointed to the Medicaid unwinding. Because of the end of the public health emergency and the changes in Medicaid eligibility, 17 million people could lose their health insurance. COVID has created disabilities at a time when people need more access to healthcare. We're actually creating a situation where access to healthcare will become even harder. And many of these people are going to lose coverage, not because they're ineligible for Medicaid but because of things like administrative errors. They may have moved and they didn't tell the government, and information is being delivered to them by mail. How often do you check your mail, right?

Anderson: Never.

Town: Can you imagine losing your health insurance because you didn't check your mail? That's what's happening right now.

Anderson: So what are the main services or considerations that this group needs? And what are you all doing to ensure that they have them, even though the public health emergency has ended?

Town: One of the things that people need continued access to is the Internet. Over the course of the pandemic, we saw the real benefit of remote work, of remote and telehealth, of an ability to join community events online. And one of the programs that got started during the pandemic is the Affordable Connectivity Program that helped subsidize the cost of Internet so more people with disabilities could stay home and stay safe. That program is not being sustained. It's ending. And so we are fighting to have Congress continue to fund that program, so all Americans, particularly people with disabilities and low-income Americans, can stay connected.

Anderson: I think it's safe to assume that almost nobody wants to go back to COVID-19 restrictions. But I'm wondering if there's a balance so that people with disabilities can have what they need, and those without disabilities can also live as they want. And if so, what does that balance look like for you?

Town: Yeah, I think that's a great question. One of the things that we need to continue seeing is hybrid opportunities to engage. So, if you've got a church service, continuing to keep your church service online, so people can show up if they want to on Sundays or they can stay home and still participate. We need continued remote employment and telehealth. We also need entities, like employers and community organizations, to include information about how they're trying to mitigate COVID when they post about their events. We need spaces where people won't feel stigmatized because they've worn a mask, and we need spaces where people don't fear being bullied because they've worn a mask. We need continued access to free and low-cost tests and vaccines. That's another piece of the public health emergency ending. Free tests are no longer really available, and the government's vaccine stockpile is winding down. But, again, the folks that are most vulnerable to COVID will continue to need access to those free resources.

Anderson: These are things that a lot of people are going to continue to discuss. What is your website? Where can they go for information?

Town: Our website is aapd.com. And on our website you can find information about our policy priorities, about our programs, and about what life is like for people with disabilities.

Anderson: Maria Town of the American Association of People with Disabilities, thank you so much.

Town: Thank you again.

Anderson: And thanks to you, as well, for watching. As always, for more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the country, visit comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Tetiana Anderson.

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