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12.7 Million Workers Have Likely Lost Employer-Provided Health Insurance Since the Coronavirus Shock Began

The linkage between specific jobs and the availability of health insurance is a prime source of inefficiency and inequity in the U.S. health system.

A comprehensive policy solution would be to extend Medicare and Medicaid to all those suffering job losses during the pandemic period, with the federal government funding this expansion.(Photo: NNU/flickr/cc)

A comprehensive policy solution would be to extend Medicare and Medicaid to all those suffering job losses during the pandemic period, with the federal government funding this expansion.(Photo: NNU/flickr/cc)

Since the economic fallout of the coronavirus shock began in early March, the number of workers laid-off or furloughed—as measured by new claims for unemployment insurance (UI)—has skyrocketed. We have used data from states that track UI claims by industry to get a rough estimate of how many workers are at high risk of losing their employer-provided health insurance (EPHI) over this as well.

The methodology is described in this blog post, and the underlying data (which has begun to include more and more states tracking UI claims by industry) can be found here. Table 1 below shows UI claims by industry across states that collect this data, and also shows employer-provided health insurance (EPHI) coverage rates in those industries in 2018. As of April 30, just under 28 million workers had been laid off or furloughed since early March. We find that this translates into likely EPHI losses of 12.7 million.

Because the United States is unique among rich countries in tying health insurance benefits to employment, many of the newly unemployed will suddenly face prohibitively costly insurance options. A comprehensive policy solution would be to extend Medicare and Medicaid to all those suffering job losses during the pandemic period, with the federal government funding this expansion. 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. 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.

The linkage between specific jobs and the availability of health insurance is a prime source of inefficiency and inequity in the U.S. health system. It is especially terrifying for workers to lose their health insurance as a result of, and during, an ongoing pandemic.

We additionally allocate EPHI losses across states, taking account of each states’ industry mix (again, the precise methodology for this calculation can be found here). The map below shows these losses allocated across states.

Josh Bivens

Josh Bivens

Josh Bivens is the Research and Policy Director at the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).

Ben Zipperer

Ben Zipperer joined the Economic Policy Institute in 2016. His areas of expertise include the minimum wage, inequality, and low-wage labor markets. He has published research in the Industrial and Labor Relations Review and has been quoted in outlets such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, Bloomberg, and the BBC.

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