Jobs have disappeared, businesses have shut their doors, rents are overdue, public transportation is cut back, childcare is gone, and people are sick. Despite this flood of bad news, Coloradans are paddling as fast as they can, struggling to keep their heads above water.

They need a lifesaver. For many vulnerable families, that’s what Health First Colorado — our Medicaid program — provides, the difference between life or death, health or illness, preventive care or emergency room crises. It’s a terrible time to reduce the ability to access and afford health care, but without more federal help to support Medicaid, that’s what will happen.

Medicaid is a joint federal and state program that provides health coverage to around 1.2 million Coloradans, including children, pregnant women, parents, seniors, and individuals with disabilities. In fact, Medicaid is the single largest source of health coverage in the United States.

It’s that important.

As the CEO of Colorado Access, everyday, I see the importance and value of our state’s Medicaid program. Colorado Access is a local, nonprofit health plan that serves more than 500,000 Coloradans through Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (known as CHP+ in Colorado). Our mission is to partner with communities and empower people through access to quality, affordable care. We know that health care access is the backbone of family economic security and the ability of Coloradans to stay afloat during uncertain times.

Sadly, due to the COVID-19 public health crisis that has devastated Colorado’s economy, our state will lack the funds needed to provide Medicaid services. We need an increase in what the federal government chips in — called the federal Medicaid assistance percentage or FMAP — for Medicaid to help us help families and children in Colorado.

It’s that simple.

More people need Medicaid during this pandemic and the accompanying economic fallout. Like most states, due to record-high unemployment levels, Colorado expects an increase of 500,000 enrollees in Medicaid. More than 40% of those enrollees are children.

Colorado faced a $3 billion shortfall in our state budget and has already passed harmful cuts to Medicaid. Without an increase in federal funding through the FMAP, the state will have to cut Medicaid when it’s needed most, and further strain other important priorities. If the state has to make further cuts to Medicaid, fewer families get the care they need, when they need it. Specifically, our Medicaid members could face new access to care challenges, including the difficulty of paying higher copays, and potentially reduced benefits over time.

That will hurt our whole community’s ability to respond to the pandemic, only creating more cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, ultimately increasing the burden on families and further damaging our economy. Future state funding cuts could lead to backlogs that prevent or delay coverage and access to COVID-19 testing and treatment, further spreading the virus.

But it’s not only families that will be hurt.

Without an increase in federal support, Medicaid cuts will also affect health care providers on the front lines. Doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals will see decreased payments, adding to the challenges they already face. We’ve continued to work closely with health care providers, including providing millions of dollars in additional financial support, throughout the pandemic but we can’t do it alone. We need to ensure the financial sustainability of the Medicaid program — and front line health care workers — through increased federal financial support.

Moreover, without an increase in federal support, people of color — who make up a significant proportion of our membership — will be at particular risk since they are disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

Federal funding increases are needed even if Congress also provides other fiscal relief, as they should. Unlike other forms of state fiscal relief, an increase to the federal Medicaid assistance percentage (FMAP) will reduce Colorado’s cost for providing Medicaid, and prevent Colorado from disenrolling people or cutting eligibility, in the middle of this crisis when Coloradans are already stressed and struggling.

To provide the level of health care needed, our Senators must follow the lead of the House and boost the FMAP by 14 percentage points, extend the boost through 2021 to ensure time for recovery, and apply part of the FMAP increase to people covered through Medicaid expansion as well as to prevent further cuts to coverage.

We hope things will get better soon, but until then, until unemployment rates decline, the health of our community improves, and our state budget recovers, we must increase the federal share of funding for Medicaid.

It’s a lifeline for Colorado families.

Marshall Thomas is the president and CEO of Colorado Access.

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Guest Commentary: Coloradans need a lifesaver during this pandemic, and that is Medicaid – The Denver Post