As many as 11 million Americans may lose their insurance in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic, a new report estimates.
Amid the sprawling transmission of COVID-19, the economy has gone into free fall and US unemployment made a record-breaking jump of nearly 17 million in just three weeks as businesses shuttered to slow the virus’s spread.
Health insurance – already relatively rare in the US – is more important than ever during the outbreak of a disease that has already infected more than 490,000 Americans and killed more than 18,000, while thousands more fight for their lives in hospitals.
But as employers lose business, workers lose their jobs and, with them, their health insurance, in many cases.
The full fallout from the pandemic will likely continue for months, and cost millions of Americans the health insurance they so badly need right now, a Heath Management Associates (HMA) report reveals.
Unemployment has already surged to 16.8 million, and is likely to increase as the pandemic continues to ravage the US. As people lose their jobs, they lose their health insurance as well. Pictured: People who have lost their jobs line up six feet apart to wait for unemployment benefits in Arkansas (file)
Before the pandemic, just over 3% of Americans were unemployed. HMA estimated how many millions of Americans would lose health insurance or move to Medicaid of 10 million (‘low’) 21 (‘medium’) or 33 million (‘high’) people lost their jobs over the course of the pandemic
Analysts at the healthcare policy consulting firm laid out the potential for coverage loss in three scenarios: whether the increase in the unemployment rate is ‘low,’ ‘medium,’ or ‘high.’
Before coronavirus hit the US, unemployment reached an historic low of about 3.5 percent, approaching the country’s all-time record low of 2.5 percent in May 1953.
For the purposes of their report, HMA analysts rounded unemployment pre-coronavirus down to three percent.
Even at that incredible low, 29 million Americans were uninsured.
If the increase in the number of people who lose their jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic is ‘low,’ relatively speaking, the analysts estimate that the number of uninsured Americans could climb to between 30 and 31 million in the US.
The number of Americans relying on government -subsidised Medicaid would also likely increase by 11 million as some 12 million people lost employer-sponsored health insurance.
But we may already have passed the ‘low’ unemployment possibility.
As coronavirus has driven millions out of their jobs, many have had to turn to food banks just to feed themselves and their families
In addition to food insecurity, millions more Americans now face life without health insurance
Economists expect that by the end of this month, more than 20 million people could be furloughed, laid off or fired.
Based on unemployment claims filed this week, the New York Times estimates the US unemployment rate is now around 13 percent, and set to bloom from there.
If the US reaches a ‘medium’ level of unemployment, leaving about 17.5 percent of the population jobless, between 34 and 35 million people could wind up uninsured.
Medicaid enrollees would reach 88 million and the number of people insured by their employers would fall to 140 million, a decrease of 14 percent.
The most dire scenario considered by HMA assumed that a quarter of Americans wind up unemployed after 33 million people lose their jobs over the course of the pandemic and its fallout.
In this case, 94 million people – around 29 percent of the population – would rely on Medicaid.
To some extent, this increase is by design under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
Whether or not people lose their jobs, the legislation is meant to encourage states to keep people enrolled in Medicaid amid the national emergency, even under circumstances that might normally terminate their enrollment.
One concern the report authors noted was that people who lose their jobs might not enroll in Medicaid and obtain much needed health insurance simply because they are unfamiliar with the system, or because the agency may become overwhelmed by the influx of applications.
States are being encouraged to allow more people to stay on or take enroll in Medicare as jobless Americans lose their health insurance in the midst of a pandemic. Pictured: Floridians line up to receive unemployment benefits in Miami
And in the worst case scenario up to 40 million people would be totally without insurance.
People in states that have not expanded Medicaid – mostly in the deep South and parts of the Midwest – may be at greater risk of ending up without any insurance, the report authors warn.
‘While job loss will qualify many people for Medicaid in expansion states, one-third of all jobs are in non-expansion states,’ they write.
Some of these states have already been hard-hit by coronavirus. Louisiana now has the nation’s third-highest number of cases in the US, and death have risen sharply in Florida and Georgia this week.
‘Given the inability of some newly unemployed individuals in non-expansion states to qualify for Medicaid, we estimate the uninsured rate could increase more acutely in these areas compared to expansion states,’ the HMA authors write.