The Triple Pandemic: COVID-19, Job Loss and Healthcare Insurance Loss

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COVID-19 has forced millions of Americans to stay in their homes for months and has resulted in painful job layoffs for many. This led to the frightening loss of health insurance for more than five million workers laid off between February and May, an increase nearly 40 percent higher than the largest previous annual increase in uninsured adults ever recorded.

It’s an incredibly painful time for Americans to lose healthcare coverage as the pandemic soars. In August, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, a highly valued group modeling the pandemic, forecasted more than 300,000 deaths by December 1.

According to Families USA, a national, nonpartisan consumer healthcare advocacy organization, the number of uninsured adults has grown significantly since the middle of June. The entire increase was recorded among the 46 percent of American households that lost employment earnings since mid-March. While millions lost coverage, the nonprofit reports in its August 6, 2020, Fact Sheet that those with stable or rising earnings are retaining coverage or even realizing gains, giving rise to the belief that healthcare in the U.S. is bordering on a system of “have and have-nots.”

“It’s more about who has been hurt, financially, by the pandemic and who hasn’t,” noted Stan Dorn, director, National Center for Coverage Innovation at Families USA. “Most of those hurt were already the have-nots, but some were previously doing okay but happened to work in an industry or a geographic area hard-hit by COVID-19.”

For many, layoffs once deemed temporary have turned into permanent job losses, resulting in no foreseeable healthcare coverage. Many of those losing their jobs are in desperate need of ongoing medical care due to pre-existing or chronic health issues, and many are underserved. “We know that people of color are disproportionately losing health insurance, and they are the ones most at risk of serious health problems due to the pandemic,” shared Stan. “We also know that many uninsured are simultaneously experiencing nutrition gaps, reporting that they have gone without necessary food at some point during the seven days before they were surveyed by the Census Bureau.”

Pandemic-related health coverage losses for parents most likely will take a hefty toll on children even with their comprehensive eligibility for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. “When parents are uninsured, children are more likely to become uninsured as well,” stated Stan. “When parents do not get treatment for their health problems, including mental health and substance use disorders, the children can suffer serious, long-term consequences.”

Opportunities for regaining healthcare insurance do exist for those experiencing the interruption of coverage. Three choices available include COBRA, Affordable Care Act and Medicaid.
According to Jill Schlesinger, CFP® and Gracie Award-winning business analyst for CBS News, under COBRA, the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, the federal government mandates group health plans “to provide a temporary continuation of group health coverage that otherwise might be terminated” for employees, spouses, former spouses and dependent children. Normally, coverage is extended for up to 18 months, but the former employee may be required to cover the entire or part of the premium cost, which can be quite expensive. When an individual has lost a job and has no foreseeable income, in many cases, this possibility isn’t viable.

She adds the next option is the Affordable Care Act, which offers a special enrollment period for those who lose their jobs. Even though a cost is associated with the program, many may qualify for subsidies to lower the expense. If income is between 100 to 400 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL), subsidies are offered and can lower monthly premiums for a Marketplace plan. In 2020, the annual subsidy ranges from $12,490 for an individual and $25,750 for a family of four at 100 percent FPL, to $49,960 for an individual and $103,000 for a family of four at 400 percent FPL.

Schlesinger reports that Medicaid, the joint federal and state program, is the third option. Together with the Children’s Health Insurance Program, over 72.5 million Americans are provided free or low-cost health coverage. Medicaid affords health coverage for some low-income Americans, families and children, pregnant women, the elderly and people with disabilities. In some states, all low-income adults below a certain income level are covered. Schlesinger recommends visiting your state’s Medicaid website or completing an application in the Health Insurance Marketplace to determine if you qualify.

While unemployment numbers are decreasing and, hopefully, some are regaining healthcare coverage, our current situation remains troubling. COVID-19 is here to stay. It’s up to us to rewrite the narrative of taking care of those who need care the most.

“[This] story will help with that important project,” said Stan. “We have to educate the public about what’s going on, and they need to contact their elected representatives.” ■

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