There is clear evidence that the COVID-19 pandemic and economic downturn are causing millions of Americans to lose not only their jobs but also their employment-based health insurance. What’s less well known is how many of these workers are remaining uninsured, and how many are shifting to other coverage—such as a spouse’s plan, Medicaid, or Medicare. Federal data on these changes will not be available until next year. In the interim, a new Families USA analysis seeks to partially fill this information gap.
The Families USA report examines the insurance and employment patterns of adults ages 18 to 64 in order to estimate the number of uninsured workers among the newly unemployed in each state. This methodology reveals that of the 21.9 million Americans who lost their jobs or left the labor force between February and May 2020, 5.4 million became uninsured as a result.
This increase in the number of uninsured adults is 39% higher than any annual increase ever recorded. The highest previous jump took place from 2008 to 2009, when 3.9 million adults became uninsured. Notably, because the Families USA estimate does not capture family members, many of whom also lost health insurance, or workers ages 65 and older, the actual number of uninsured Americans is likely even higher.
In a follow-up report, Families USA presented newly released U.S. Census Bureau data that confirms significant, ongoing coverage losses among the recently un- or underemployed. Since mid-June, two million adults have become uninsured, all in the 46% of households that have experienced lost wage earnings during the pandemic.
These individuals often find themselves at a confusing crossroads. The coverage options for people facing or anticipating a loss of job-based insurance depend on several factors, including the individual employer, family income, and various state laws. These eligibility and financial considerations are complex, especially for people who are Medicare-eligible. They must also understand how their employment-based or other insurance works with Medicare, as well as the program’s timelines and enrollment windows.
As Medicare Rights’ Senior Counsel for Education & Federal Policy, Casey Schwarz, explains in this AARP article, a mismanaged decision can have serious and lifelong consequences for people with Medicare—such as lengthy coverage gaps, high out-of-pocket costs, and lifetime late enrollment penalties.
These severe consequences underscore the need for the BENES Act’s clear, timely outreach and education to people who are approaching Medicare eligibility. Medicare Rights also supports the inclusion of strategies to empower beneficiary decision-making as part of any legislative effort to subsidize continuation coverage, such as COBRA, during the pandemic. This protection was included in the House-passed HEROES Act, and we urge lawmakers to adopt it alongside any COBRA subsidies that may be included in a final package.
As negotiations on the relief bill continue, join Medicare Rights in asking Congress to prioritize these and other policies important to people with Medicare.
Read the Families USA report, The COVID-19 Pandemic and Resulting Economic Crash Have Caused the Greatest Health Insurance Losses in American History.
Read the AARP article, Don’t Make These Medicare Mistakes if You Lose Your Job After 65.