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'Threadbare' US System Denounced as Study Shows 12 Million Lost Employer-Tied Healthcare During Pandemic

"Delinking health insurance with jobs should be a top policy priority."

Nurse practitioner Daniel Lucas-Neel II checks the temperature of a man who asked to be screened at a pop-up Coronavirus testing site run by a free clinic in Charleston, West Virginia on April 13, 2020. The free clinic called West Virginia Health Right has seen an increase in people seeking help because they lost their healthcare coverage when they lost their jobs. (Photo: Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Medicare for All advocates had new reason to decry the U.S. system that ties the healthcare for many to employment after a new study released Wednesday showed an estimate 12 million Americans have lost their employer-sponsored insurance coverage since the Covid-19 pandemic hit earlier this year.

"At a minimum, policymakers concerned about Americans’ health security should have the federal government pay for all testing and treatment for COVID-19 related expenses in coming months."
—Economic Policy Institute

"Because most U.S. workers rely on their employer or a family member’s employer for health insurance, the shock of the coronavirus has cost millions of Americans their jobs and their access to healthcare in the midst of a public health catastrophe," Josh Bivens, co-author of the study and director of research at the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), said in a statement announcing the findings.

"Tying health insurance to the labor market is always terribly inefficient and problematic, but becomes particularly so during times of great labor market churn," said Bivens.

The think tank pointed to a clear way to prevent job loss from equaling loss of health insurance.

"Delinking health insurance with jobs should be a top policy priority," EPI tweeted in a thread about the study and the authors' takeaways. "The most ambitious and transformational way to sever this link is to make the federal government the payer of first resort for all health care expenses—a 'single payer' plan like #MedicareForAll."

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But despite growing popularity of such a system among the American public, neither the Republican nor Democratic party platforms embrace the idea, despite continued advocacy from more progressive members of Congress and activists.

Rep. Ilhan Omar, (D-Minn.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) introduced legislation this month to cover out-of-pocket healthcare expenses of all Americans during the pandemic by authorizing a wealth tax. Entitled the "Make Billionaires Pay Act," the measure would be funded by taxing the wealth gains accrued by billionaires since March as millions of Americans lost their jobs. Both Sanders and Omar have co-sponsored Medicare for All legislation in the past, and the EPI study's authors urged lawmakers to act quickly.

"The coronavirus pandemic has exposed how incomplete and threadbare the U.S. safety net and social insurance system is," said Ben Zipperer, an economist and study co-author. "In order to help millions of Americans during the pandemic and beyond, policymakers must take swift action to address the inequities and inefficiencies in our health care system."

EPI also noted online Wednesday that a single-payer system would not be a job killer, as its opponents like to assert.

"Medicare for All is a hugely ambitious policy, and there's a lot to debate about it. But the idea it would have a massive job-killing effect is a fake story," Bivens said in an explainer video EPI shared on Twitter Wednesday.

 

"At a minimum, policymakers concerned about Americans' health security should have the federal government pay for all testing and treatment for Covid-19 related expenses in coming months," Bivens and Zipperer wrote.

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