Georgia is facing a new kind of health crisis and it isn’t the next Covid variant. Instead, it’s a man-made crisis — one that could raise costs for hundreds of thousands of families in our state and millions more across the nation.

A successful health program is about to expire unless Congress acts to make it permanent. This federal program has worked wonders to expand access to affordable health care here in Georgia. Health insurance subsidies, included and extended in the American Rescue Plan Act in last year, lower the cost of health care for those who struggle the most to afford it. By providing relief for lower-income individuals, the program ensures that affordable care remains accessible for families of every background, income level and health status.

This remarkable success story could soon come to an end unless Congress moves urgently to make it permanent. Termination of this program would bring new burdens to the more than 700,000 Georgians who get their health coverage from the federal insurance marketplace. Without making this program permanent, these Georgians could be forced to pay more just to secure basic care.

How much more will it cost? A report from the Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that premium costs could double for the 14.5 million individuals who recently purchased coverage on the marketplace. A different study determined that in one of the worst scenarios, “a 55-year-old couple earning $70,551 per year” could see premium increases of more than $9,000 a year for access to health coverage.

Congress can keep health coverage affordable for millions of Americans across the country by making these subsidies permanent. Right now, the typical savings for an individual with health insurance subsidies amounts to $600 a year, according to government analysis. This kind of savings helps reduce the burden on families and provide important safeguards against rising medical debts.

With prices of many goods and services rising due to inflation and global bottlenecks, it’s important to do everything possible to ensure families can continue to afford health care. Every dollar not spent on medical expenses is a dollar that can be used to build healthy families and thriving communities. Supporting a child’s education, engaging in cultural and church activities and patronizing local small businesses are all possible when families are less burdened by the high costs of health coverage.

Health care tax credits are especially important to the community in Southwest Atlanta where we have raised our family. My husband, who is an accomplished physician, Alphonzo Overstreet, Jr., founded a medical practice here 20 years ago that continues to keep folks healthy today. I serve on the Atlanta City Council where I have focused on improving city services and boosting community wellness. Working together, we see the great strength and potential of our community every day. This is especially true as Georgians faced down the many challenges of the last few years. With so much reason for optimism in our future, now would be the worst time to make it harder for Atlantans to afford critical health care.

Fortunately, Georgia’s two hardworking U.S. Senators still have time to make a difference in the health of our communities. Senators Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff have both fought to do the right thing and protect our access to affordable health care. Now they can build on their good work and stand up for the thousands of Georgians who can’t afford another price hike.

Our nation faces a lot of challenges right now. But keeping health care costs within reach surely must be a top priority. Making these health subsidies permanent is the most straightforward way to keep costs down and ensure the health and well-being of communities across Georgia. That’s why we urge Senators Warnock and Ossoff to keep standing up for Georgia and make these vital subsidies permanent.