Tuesday, May 12, 2020

How Many Will Lose Their Health Insurance?

The official unemployment rate climbed to 14.7 percent in April, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports, a level of unemployment not seen since the Great Depression. Sky high unemployment is not just an economic problem for the United States, but also a public health problem. Most Americans depend on employer-provided health insurance. As they lose their jobs, they lose their insurance.

An Urban Institute study tallies up just how many are likely to lose their health insurance in the months ahead, and the results are not for the faint of heart. Urban Institute researchers examined the health insurance consequences of an unemployment rate of 15, 20, and 25 percent. Here are the findings...

15% unemployment rate: 17.7 million would lose insurance (5.1 million more uninsured)
20% unemployment rate: 25.4 million would lose insurance (7.3 million more uninsured)
25% unemployment rate: 33.0 million would lose insurance (9.6 million more uninsured)

Note that the number of people losing employer-provided health insurance far surpasses the number who join the ranks of the uninsured. That's because many of the uninsured would qualify for Medicaid because of their lower incomes, and many others would purchase marketplace health insurance through the Affordable Care Act. Despite these safety nets, however, the Urban Institute projects a painful rise in the number of Americans without health insurance. With unemployment at 15 percent, the number of uninsured would rise 18 percent. At 20 percent unemployment, the number of uninsured would increase by 26 percent. At 25 percent unemployment, the uninsured would expand by 34 percent.

But the situation might become even uglier than these numbers suggest. That's because, once again, the Affordable Care Act is before the Supreme Court, with a number of states arguing that the law should be declared unconstitutional. If the Supreme Court agrees and strikes down the ACA, warns the Urban Institute, our Great Depression level of unemployment will lead to many more uninsured Americans than the estimates indicate. "Reversing the ACA, and thereby strengthening the relationship between joblessness and uninsurance, would counteract efforts to contain the virus, improve public health, and stabilize the economy."

Source: Urban Institute, How the Covid-19 Recession Could Affect Health Insurance Coverage

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