For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Steffie Woolhandler, M.D., M.P.H, steffie_woolhandler@hms.harvard.edu
David U. Himmelstein, M.D., dhimmels@hunter.cuny.edu
Clare Fauke, Physicians for a National Health Program, clare@pnhp.org

New Study: 1,553,000 Workers Became Uninsured in Past Two Weeks; 5.7 Million More Likely to Lose Coverage by June 30

Health policy experts call for automatic medicare enrollment for the unemployed.

WASHINGTON - In a new study published today in the Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers estimate that layoffs triggered by the COVID-19 epidemic have already caused more than 1.5 million American workers to lose health insurance, with 5.7 million more likely to become uninsured by June 30, for a total of 7.3 million newly uninsured.

Researchers at Harvard Medical School and the City University of New York's (CUNY) Hunter College analyzed data on the number of new unemployment claims in each state, as well as differences in the likelihood of being uninsured among workers with jobs and among those who have lost jobs. They determined that workers who have lost jobs in the last two weeks were already more likely to be uninsured (26.3%) compared to those who have retained their jobs (10.7%). By applying the 15.6% difference to the 9.955 million workers who filed new unemployment claims last week, they estimated that 1.553 million newly unemployed persons will lose health coverage.

The study also found that as the pandemic continues, 5.7 million additional workers will lose insurance coverage by June 30, bringing the total of newly uninsured to 7.3 million workers. These estimates are based on Federal Reserve projections that 47 million workers will lose their jobs before the end of June. The researchers’ figures do not include family members who lost coverage because of a breadwinner's job loss, or coverage losses among self-employed persons who did not file unemployment claims.

Researchers report that coverage losses will be steeper in the 14 states that have refused to expand Medicaid under the ACA. In those states, 22.6% of the newly-unemployed are likely to lose all coverage, in addition to the 15.8% who were uninsured even when they were working, raising the uninsurance rate among job losers in non-Medicaid expansion states to nearly 40%. In states that did expand Medicaid, 8.3% of those with jobs are uninsured, and an additional 13.8% of those who lose jobs will lose coverage.

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The study authors urge states that have not yet expanded Medicaid to do so immediately. However, because states are limited in their financial abilities to provide coverage, the authors recommend that the federal government authorize Medicare coverage for anyone eligible for unemployment benefits, and eventually implement universal Medicare for All.

“Millions of Americans are newly vulnerable to financial catastrophe, as we face an epidemic of life-threatening illness,” said study co-author Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, a primary care doctor, distinguished professor at Hunter College and lecturer at Harvard Medical School. “The COVID-19 epidemic highlights the folly of tying health coverage to jobs. Our health care system saddles people with medical bills when they're least able to afford them because they've been laid off or are too sick to work. Health insurance in the U.S. is like an umbrella that melts in the rain.”

“The federal government must step up in this crisis,” added study co-author Dr. David Himmelstein, an internist and distinguished professor at CUNY's Hunter College and lecturer at Harvard Medical School. “The states can't do it because tax revenues are plunging, and they're required to balance their budgets. Congress and the President have provided free testing for coronavirus, but no new coverage for those who need treatment. In this emergency, Congress should make all of the uninsured automatically eligible for Medicare.”

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Physicians for a National Health Program is a single issue organization advocating a universal, comprehensive single-payer national health program. PNHP has more than 21,000 members and chapters across the United States.

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