COVID & Unemployment

Millions of newly unemployed Americans have lost health insurance, study finds

David Brancaccio, Nova Safo, and Alex Schroeder Jul 14, 2020
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An ambulance sits in the emergency room bay of Lincoln Medical Center on April 16, 2020. David Dee Delgado/Getty Images
COVID & Unemployment

Millions of newly unemployed Americans have lost health insurance, study finds

David Brancaccio, Nova Safo, and Alex Schroeder Jul 14, 2020
Heard on:
An ambulance sits in the emergency room bay of Lincoln Medical Center on April 16, 2020. David Dee Delgado/Getty Images
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A new study finds that more than 5 million of those laid off also lost their health insurance and didn’t find an alternative.

Marketplace’s Nova Safo is following this. The following is an edited transcript of his conversation with “Marketplace Morning Report” host David Brancaccio.

David Brancaccio: Nova, the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid are among the safety nets designed to get people insured, so why have so many been left without coverage?

Nova Safo: The health care advocacy group Families USA, which put out this study, says these are people who have fallen between the cracks in the system. And it’s a lot of people ⁠— nearly 5.4 million workers.

I spoke this morning with Stan Dorn, who authored the study, and he says there’s just more need for health insurance coverage than the current system is designed to handle:

“Help may not be enough to make coverage affordable. Medicaid is affordable. But there are millions of people who live in states that have not expanded Medicaid and they may be ineligible for Medicaid. And, also, the subsidies in the exchange is just not enough to make coverage realistically affordable.”

And there’s another problem: Unemployed workers are getting that additional $600 a week in pandemic aid. That counts as income in the health insurance marketplace, and the more income you have, the less money in subsidies you get to pay the monthly premiums. So you have a situation where people are getting needed financial aid, but it’s making health insurance less affordable, and they’re doing without.

Brancaccio: How many people total are uninsured now in the United States?

Safo: The exact number we won’t know until sometime next year, when the federal government releases figures. But Families USA estimates that nearly 31 million adults in this country now don’t have health insurance coverage.

And Dorn wants lawmakers to act:

“Congress needs to provide financial assistance so that people in hard times can afford insurance. We all have trouble affording insurance ⁠— or many of us have trouble affording insurance, even in good times. In tough times, people need extra help.”

It’s worth pointing out: In seven states that have more significant problems with number of uninsured adults, COVID-19 infections are now spiking.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

Millions of Americans are unemployed, but businesses say they are having trouble hiring. Why?

This economic crisis is unusual compared to traditional recessions, according to Daniel Zhao, senior economist with Glassdoor. “Many workers are still sitting out of the labor force because of health concerns or child care needs, and that makes it tough to find workers regardless of what you’re doing with wages or benefits,” Zhao said. “An extra dollar an hour isn’t going to make a cashier with preexisting conditions feel that it’s safe to return to work.” This can be seen in the restaurant industry: Some workers have quit or are reluctant to apply because of COVID-19 concerns, low pay, meager benefits and the stress that comes with a fast-paced, demanding job. Restaurants have been willing to offer signing bonuses and temporary wage increases. One McDonald’s is even paying people $50 just to interview.

Could waiving patents increase the global supply of COVID-19 vaccines?

India and South Africa have introduced a proposal to temporarily suspend patents on COVID-19 vaccines. Backers of the plan say it would increase the supply of vaccines around the world by allowing more countries to produce them. Skeptics say it’s not that simple. There’s now enough supply in the U.S that any adult who wants a shot should be able to get one soon. That reality is years away for most other countries. More than 100 countries have backed the proposal to temporarily waive COVID-19 vaccine patents. The U.S isn’t one of them, but the White House has said it’s considering the idea.

Can businesses deny you entry if you don’t have a vaccine passport?

As more Americans get vaccinated against COVID-19 and the economy begins reopening, some businesses are requiring proof of vaccination to enter their premises. The concept of a vaccine passport has raised ethical questions about data privacy and potential discrimination against the unvaccinated. However, legal experts say businesses have the right to deny entrance to those who can’t show proof.

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