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July 15, 2020

5.4M Americans have lost health insurance amid Covid-19. It could get a lot worse.

Daily Briefing

    About 5.4 million Americans became uninsured between February and May because of job losses, according to new research from Families USA, and a separate study predicts the number of Americans who lose their employer-sponsored health plans could reach 10 million by the end of this year.

    How Covid-19 will impact employer coverage

    5.4M Americans lost health coverage because of job losses

    For the Families USA study, researchers reviewed data on unemployment and health coverage levels from the Urban Institute, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and Families USA's National Center for Coverage Innovation. The researchers used the data to estimate the number of adult workers who became uninsured because of job losses amid the first peak of America's coronavirus epidemic.

    The researchers estimated that 5.4 million U.S. adults under age 65 lost their health coverage and became uninsured because of job losses between February and May of this year. According to the study, that increase is higher than any annual increase in health coverage losses that's ever been recorded in the United States and is almost 40% greater than the previous record recorded from 2008 to 2009, during the Great Recession.

    The researchers found that 46% of those coverage losses occurred in five states: California, Florida, New York, North Carolina, and Texas.

    In Texas, for example, the number of uninsured, nonelderly adults in the state increased from around 4.2 million to 4.9 million from February to May, the researchers found. According to the New York Times, that means three out of every 10 people in Texas were uninsured.

    States that haven't expanded their Medicaid programs under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) saw smaller increases in their numbers of uninsured, nonelderly adults than states that have expanded Medicaid, the researchers found. In expansion states, an average of 23% of workers who were laid off became uninsured, compared with an average of 43% in nonexpansion states, according to the researchers.

    Stan Dorn, director of Families USA's National Center for Coverage Innovation and author of the study, said, "We knew these numbers would be big," as America saw its "worst economic downturn since World War II. … So it's not surprising that we would also see the worst increase in the uninsured."

    10M Americans could lose health coverage by this year's end

    Meanwhile, a separate study from the Urban Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation predicts that more than 10 million Americans could lose their employer-sponsored health coverage by the end of 2020.

    For the study, researchers reviewed data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Commonwealth Fund, the Congressional Budget Office, the Federal Reserve, Health Management Associates, Georgetown University's Center on Health Insurance Reforms, the Kaiser Family Foundation, and the Urban Institute.

    The researchers estimated that 48 million Americans younger than 65 currently live in a household that will experience some sort of job loss related to the country's coronavirus epidemic. Of those people, around one-fifth are enrolled in an employer-sponsored health plan and could lose their coverage because of job losses by the end of this year, the researchers found.

    The researchers projected that most of those who lose their employer-sponsored health plans will regain coverage elsewhere. For instance, they estimated that about 3.3 million people will be added to a family members' health plan, about 2.8 million will enroll in Medicaid, and about 600,000 will enrolled in ACA exchange plans. The remaining 3.5 million people likely will remain uninsured, the researchers said.

    Katherine Hempstead, a senior policy adviser at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, said, "The loss of jobs and coverage associated with the [coronavirus epidemic] is a huge test for [America's] safety net" (New York Times, 7/13; Owens, "Vitals," Axios, 7/14; Minemyer, FierceHealthcare, 7/13; Dorn, Families USA study, 7/13; Banthin et al., Urban Institute/Robert Wood Johnson Foundation issue brief, 7/13).

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