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COVID & Unemployment

Losing a job hasn’t translated to losing health care — so far

Samantha Fields Dec 16, 2020
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Doctors test hospital staff at a triage center in New York early in the pandemic. Misha Friedman/Getty Images
COVID & Unemployment

Losing a job hasn’t translated to losing health care — so far

Samantha Fields Dec 16, 2020
Heard on:
Doctors test hospital staff at a triage center in New York early in the pandemic. Misha Friedman/Getty Images
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Open enrollment for health insurance ended Tuesday in the 36 states that use the federal marketplace HealthCare.gov. 

Other states and Washington, D.C., have later deadlines.

And it’ll be a while before we have final numbers, but early indications are that the number of new people signing up for health coverage was about the same as last year. Despite the fact that millions of people lost their jobs this year — and presumably the health care that came with them.

Given what we know right now, the number of people who’ve lost health insurance in the pandemic is actually lower than experts worried it might be. Karen Pollitz of the Kaiser Family Foundation said one reason is “most of the people who have lost jobs during the pandemic didn’t have health insurance to begin with.”

Because their jobs in restaurants, retail and hospitality didn’t offer it. 

Pollitz said many of those who did lose coverage through employers were able to replace it.

“People have been figuring out if they did lose job based coverage and if they still make too much for Medicaid, but they did have a qualifying event, they’re figuring out how to sign up for marketplace coverage,” Pollitz said.

That means the Affordable Care Act is working as intended, said Aviva Aron-Dine of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. 

“And protecting people who have lost their jobs lost their coverage from becoming uninsured,” Aron-Dine said.

There are still about 29 million people who are uninsured. Many are eligible for free or low-cost coverage and just don’t know it. 

Kavita Patel, a doctor in Washington D.C. and a fellow at the Brookings Institution, had an uninsured patient come in a couple of weeks ago.

“And when I said, ‘Have you looked into whether you qualify for Medicaid or potentially even a subsidy to buy health insurance?’ And she said, ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about,'” Patel said.

That’s common, she said, in large part, because the Trump administration almost eliminated funding for open enrollment marketing.

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 continues 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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