May 14, 2020
In just two weeks, the number of Americans estimated to have lost their health insurance as a result of the coronavirus pandemic grew by nearly four million, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
EPI estimates that 16.2 million workers overall have lost the insurance they carried through their employer since March, when the coronavirus forced industries across the country to shut down, laying off and furloughing tens of millions.
The think tank previously estimated in research published at the end of April that 12.7 million people had lost their employer-based insurance.
Thursday's estimated number comes on the same day the Department of Labor announced that another three million Americans lost their jobs in the last two weeks, bringing the total number of unemployed workers since March to at least 36 million.
As Common Dreamsreported last week, with the number of uninsured people rising steadily as more and more Americans lose work, at total of 43 million people could eventually lose their access to healthcare as a result of the pandemic.
Other wealthy countries have been able to continue to offer medical care that's free at the point of service to all residents--even as they face government shutdowns and unemployment crises of their own.
As the New York Times reported Wednesday, the pandemic has intensified the United Kingdom's veneration for the country's already broadly popular, government-funded National Health Service while "Britons tend to compare their system with America's and recoil in alarm."
As New Republic deputy editor Katie McDonough tweeted, the Covid-19 pandemic has illustrated with each passing week that the U.S. must expand Medicare to all Americans--"like yesterday."
EPI reiterated its demand that the federal government immediately fund an expansion of Medicaid and Medicare for all who suffer job and insurance losses as a result of the pandemic, saying that less bold solutions will leave far too many people out.
"It has been proposed that the federal government pay for all of COBRA coverage so that workers who are laid off or furloughed may continue their employer-provided coverage," wrote economist Ben Zipperer and research director Josh Bivens. "While this policy proposal will help many workers continue coverage, in some states it will not help workers from small businesses with fewer than 20 employees, who are not eligible for COBRA."
EPI uses data from states that track unemployment claims by industry to arrive at their estimates of workers who have lost health insurance due to the pandemic.
According to Zipperer and Bivens, 2.5 million people who work in manufacturing have lost their employer-based health insurance since March, and 2.4 million in the healthcare sector have lost their coverage.
"It is especially terrifying for workers to lose their health insurance as a result of, and during, an ongoing pandemic," they wrote.
The uninsurance crisis resulting from mass job losses, wrote Sarah Jones at New York magazine, should serve as a death knell for one of the most frequently-deployed, industry-approved talking points against Medicare for All--that the current for-profit health insurance system free to "make decisions" about their own healthcare.
"As the pandemic clarifies, choice means little in the context of healthcare," Jones wrote. "A person's ability to keep an insurance plan they like already depended on the choices their employer makes--or, in the case of Covid-19, on massive forces outside an employer's control. So while Americans may like their employer-provided coverage when they have it, contra Obama, they can't always keep it. That vulnerability simply becomes more pronounced during times of national economic distress."
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