The COVID-19 pandemic has burdened an already-strained health care system for months without an end in sight for some of the most at-risk populations, including seniors, those with pre-existing conditions, and as recent conversations around racial justice have highlighted — health disparities within Black and Latino communities. These populations are some of the most reliant on an overwhelmed Medicaid program that has been pushed to its limits amidst a crisis.

Medicaid covers one in five Americans, and more than 682,000 rely on Medicaid in Iowa. Congress must act to provide additional federal funding to support increased enrollment in our state Medicaid program due to COVID-19, and this must be a priority in the next relief package. Millions have lost their jobs because of the pandemic, and 5.4 million lost health coverage as a result. That means more people are forced to look to Medicaid for coverage, adding significant strain to the program.

Medicaid programs help some of the most vulnerable in Iowa see their doctors and get the health care they need — including the 62% of seniors living in nursing homes who rely on Medicaid and those with compromised immune systems or chronic health conditions such as heart or kidney disease, respiratory issues, and diabetes who are at increased risk of illness from COVID-19. In addition, one in three Iowans with disabilities rely on Medicaid for treatment. These populations are seeing devastating outcomes from being unable to access treatment or having to wait for life-saving care.

Medicaid is critical to addressing health disparities prevalent in communities that face systemic inequalities in our health care system. Since the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion became available in 2014, significantly more people of color, members of the LGBTQ community, people with disabilities, and low-income non-elderly adults have gained health coverage. Especially during a national public health crisis, Congress has the responsibility to do more to protect Americans who rely on Medicaid for access to care.

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Additionally, the next federal relief package must provide resources for health care workers on the front line of the COVID-19 crisis in emergency rooms, intensive care units, and assisted living facilities who risk their lives daily to treat Iowans that have contracted COVID-19. These workers have faced unprecedented challenges during this crisis, including another increase in PPE shortages as the number of COVID-19 infections skyrockets throughout the country. Health care workers shouldn’t be forced to reuse masks or surgical gowns that are meant to be disposed of between infected patients.

Congress must ensure that health care workers are given the resources they need to safely do their jobs as this public health crisis persists. In addition, health care workers need financial support to help manage unexpected expenses as they continue to risk their lives, even as medical personnel deaths account for as much as 20% of known COVID-19 cases in some states.

Federal support for Medicaid and front-line workers is critical right now. Twelve organizations across our state, including Iowa Citizen Action Network, recently sent a letter to Congress in support of expanding financial resources for the Medicaid program as the federal government has been slow or inadequate in its response to the COVID-19 crisis. But resources to help stabilize state Medicaid programs are much needed, as the number of cases increases across the nation. Congress must immediately increase federal funding for Medicaid and support health care workers. The health of patients and workers in Iowa remains at great risk while we wait.

Dinsdale is director of Iowa Citizen Action Network and Lower Drug Prices Now.