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Nearly 5 Million Lost Health Coverage In The Past Three Weeks

Above photo: People gather at the entrance for the New York State Department of Labor offices, which closed to the public due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, U.S., March 20, 2020. Reuters/Andrew Kelly.

13.5 Million Likely to Become Uninsured by June 30

New Estimates Include Dependents of Laid-off Workers

4,805,894 American workers and their dependents have lost health insurance coverage in the past three weeks, according to a new estimate by researchers at The City of New York’s Hunter College and Harvard Medical School. The researchers also estimate that a total of 13.475 million will join the ranks of the uninsured by June 30, raising the number of uninsured Americans to about 43 million.

The new figures include coverage losses among newly-unemployed workers as well as their dependents covered under job-based family policies. The figures update previous estimates that the same researchers published online in the Annals of Internal Medicine on April 7, 2020. Those previous estimates only included workers themselves who were laid off during the last two weeks of March, and did not include dependents losing family coverage because of layoffs, or the most recent week of data.

The new estimates analyzed U.S. Labor Department data on the number of new unemployment claims in each state, and differences in the likelihood of being uninsured among workers with jobs (and their dependents) and those who have lost jobs (and their dependents).

Based on an analysis of Census Bureau surveys of health insurance coverage, the researchers estimated that 15.6% of laid-off workers become newly uninsured, and that for every 100 workers who lose coverage, about 83.7 dependents also lose insurance. They applied those estimates to the Labor Department’s figures (released on April 9) indicating that 16.780 million people filed new unemployment claims in the past three weeks.

The June 30 coverage loss estimate was based on a Federal Reserve economist’s projection that 47.05 million workers will lose jobs by the end of June. The researchers noted that their figures do not include coverage losses among self-employed persons, or other job losers who did not file unemployment claims or their dependents.

The research was carried out by Drs. Steffie Woolhandler and David U. Himmelstein. Both authors are internal medicine specialists who serve as distinguished professors at Hunter College and lecturers at Harvard Medical School.

Dr. Woolhandler commented, “Our health financing system is in tatters, as our nation faces the biggest health crisis in a century. Millions are losing coverage each week and hospitals are struggling to make payroll. States can’t fill the gaps because tax revenues are plummeting and they, unlike the federal government, are required to balance their budgets each year. In this emergency, Washington must step in to protect beleaguered families by expanding Medicare to cover all of the uninsured.”

In addition to their academic positions, Drs. Woolhandler and Himmelstein founded Physicians for a National Health Program, a 23,000 member organization that advocates for single-payer Medicare for All.

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