Over three million Americans lost their jobs in the COVID-19 outbreak, stated Dylan Scott of Vox, an American news and opinion website. For those working in jobs that offered benefits, the outbreak entails losing their health insurance. The loss of health insurance shows that the US’s health system is vulnerable amid a global pandemic. Health insurance is more vital than ever, so what will happen to people who were stripped off their insurance during the pandemic?
Health Care and Health Insurance Statistics
Jennifer Tolbert of KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation), a non-profit organization that provides health policy research and analysis, said there were nearly 28 million non-elderly Americans who lacked health insurance. The occupations with the largest numbers of uninsured workers were construction laborers (695,000), cooks (618,000), driver/sales workers and truck drivers (578,000), cashiers (491,000), and waiters and waitresses (459,000).
52% of uninsured adults cited “no usual source of care” as a barrier to health care, followed by 13% of those who relied on Medicaid/other public and 12% of those who depend on their employer/other private for their insurance. Other barriers include not having seen or talked with a health professional in the past year, which was cited by 44% of uninsured adults (versus 14% and 15%), and postponing seeking care due to costs (27% versus 9% versus 7%.)
According to an NBC News/Commonwealth Fund survey involving American voters, 31% of likely voters were worried about being able to afford their health insurance in the next 12 months, cited Linda Carroll of NBC News, an American broadcast television network. 29% reported fears of having not enough money to pay for out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs and 32% expressed worries about being able to afford other out-of-pocket costs.
Nearly 80% of likely voters believed that reducing health costs should be a high priority for the next president. One in five likely voters said they had issues paying or were unable to pay their medical bills over the last two years. Among them, 46% said they used their savings or retirement funds to pay for their medical bills. 46% also said they borrowed money from family friends, 34% said they had taken on credit card debt, 26% said they sold jewelry or furniture, 7% said they raised money through crowdsourcing.
In another survey by Healthinsurance.com, a company that helps anyone look for individual and family plans, 33.79% believed that the government should pay for testing in case of an epidemic such as the coronavirus. 11.85% said health insurance companies and 54.36% said it should be the combined effort of health insurance firms and the government. Further, 60.51% said they avoided seeking medical care due to cost (versus 39.49% who said “no”). 38.57% (versus 61.43%) said would think twice about seeking medical care due to cost if they think they had coronavirus.
Expect the Number of Uninsured People to Increase
There’s no doubt that there will be an increased number of uninsured people as more individuals lose their jobs during the pandemic, Larry Levitt, senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation, told Scott. At the same time, they will also need health care in case they become infected and seriously ill.
Most of these newly unemployed people may not have health insurance or they rely on public programs such as Medicaid or the Affordable Care Act. The workers most vulnerable to job loss from the virus were those working in service or retail industries and they are most likely be low-wage workers. These jobs don’t pay well and businesses that employ these workers are less likely to offer health insurance.
What Are the Alternatives?
With the need fpr health insurance skyrocketing, one alternative is COBRA— albeit it is becoming more obsolete since the ACA became law. COBRA enables individuals to continue buying into their present health plan even after being laid off. They could be mandated to pay the full premium of $7,200 for an individual and over an average of $20,000 for a family without the assistance of their former employer.
Additionally, laid-off workers are eligible for enrollment on the ACA’s private insurance market. Lower-wage workers may qualify for federal subsidies to purchase a new plan. Some unemployed individuals will be eligible for Medicaid, which determines income per month. Many people who are out of work qualify for Medicaid, Levitt stated.
However, they may not be qualified if they live in one of the 14 states that refused to expand Medicaid under the ACA. This means over two million individuals in poverty will be uninsured. Even if people are uninsured, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CSC) believes it has the legal authority to cover COVID19 testing and treatment. In theory, no person should be denied testing or treatment because they can’t afford either of them.
Despite These Alternatives, There Are Still Obstacles to Affordable Health Care
There are stories of Americans who were turned away or surprised with a massive bill because they were uninsured. The total cost of treatment, especially for complex cases, could cost up to tens of thousands of dollars. How about those who are insured? They could also be forced to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars if they get hospitalized because of the coronavirus.
High costs are indeed a barrier. This is a big concern since people might wait until their sickness escalates before going to the hospital. There is also the increased likelihood of exposing more people down the road, noted Cynthia Cox, who directs the Peterson-Kaiser Health System Tracker.
This already happened during the 2007-2009 recession, stated Wendell Potter of The Guardian, a British newspaper. Researchers at Cornell University revealed that 9.3 million Americans lost their health insurance during the said time period. How can they afford monthly premiums for their health insurance if they lost a steady stream of income?
This issue becomes more prevalent as premiums for health plans sold on exchanges are forecasted to skyrocket due to “unexpected COVID-19 costs.” As America begins to rebuild its economic base and reshaping the roles of industries in the future, they need to start a conversation about health care. If people are going to be dependent on jobs for health insurance, then most of them will be uninsured in case of another pandemic.
Does the “health is wealth” maxim hold true? Not necessarily. Due to high health care costs, wealth is health. Not everyone can afford health care or monthly insurance premiums. Health is a right, not a privilege. The government should be prepared to offer humane alternatives for its citizens, especially those who are vulnerable.