The New York Times reported last week that more than 5 million families lost their health insurance after they lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That estimate came from Families USA, a nonpartisan consumer advocacy group. That is a small number compared to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s estimate of 27 million people left uninsured following layoffs. The difference is that Families USA counted families and the Kaiser Family Foundation counted individuals. Either way they are counted, a great many people lost their employer-sponsored health insurance between February and May.
Most of those who lost insurance had options. They might have been eligible for Medicare or a state plan such as MassHealth. But navigating the change isn’t easy. The Kaiser Family Foundation did not count the number of people who exercised their options but pointed out that even before the pandemic there were millions who were eligible for Medicaid or marketplace subsidies who were uninsured.
It is a cruel irony that so many lost their health insurance due to a health threat. And about 40 percent more lost their health insurance than during the recession of 2008 and 2009.
It is clear that a healthcare system that relies on employers for sponsorship is seriously flawed.
Our guess is that most business owners do not object to the cost of providing employees with health insurance. If they didn’t cover the expense directly, they surely would have to pay the same in taxes or to some other fund that would provide coverage. Annual renewals present thorny decisions about coverage, deductibles and co-pays, but health benefits can also help attract quality employees.
But the system puts workers in a precarious position; they have more to lose than their job alone.
There is too much distrust of government to expand Medicare for universal coverage. That is unfortunate, to our thinking, because we can’t think of a better way to provide health stability to workers in the United States.
Detractors will point to government bloat and waste, and they aren’t entirely wrong; government efficiency is an oxymoron. They might take a different view if they took into account the cost to the country’s economy when so many cannot pay medical bills in an event such as this pandemic.