‘Drop the Medicare eligibility age to 0 right now’: Study warns 35 million could lose employer-sponsored health insurance

"For all the abstracted talk over the last year about health insurance churn, we are likely about to see it on an unprecedented scale in terms of velocity and devastation."

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SOURCECommon Dreams

The coronavirus pandemic and resulting economic collapse could cause a staggering 35 million people in the U.S. to lose their employer-sponsored health insurance over the next several months, with lower-income Americans bearing the brunt of the damage.

That’s according to a report (pdf) released Friday by the research and consulting firm Health Management Associates (HMA). The new analysis warns that, depending on the severity of U.S. job losses, “the number of people receiving coverage from an employer could decline by 12 to 35 million, including both workers and family members.”

“For all the abstracted talk over the last year about health insurance churn, we are likely about to see it on an unprecedented scale in terms of velocity and devastation.”
—Jeff Stein, Washington Post

The worst-case scenario presented in the report projects a U.S. unemployment rate of 25%—equal to the jobless rate at the peak of the Great Depression. Economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis predicted last month that the unemployment rate could reach 32% by the end of June.

“For all the abstracted talk over the last year about health insurance churn, we are likely about to see it on an unprecedented scale in terms of velocity and devastation,” Washington Post reporter Jeff Stein tweeted, referring to the policy debate that emerged in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary over whether the employer-sponsored healthcare system gives people more “choice” than a universal alternative like Medicare for All.

While many people who lose their coverage will be eligible to enroll in Medicaid, the HMA report notes that “one-third of all jobs” are located in states that have opted not to expand the program.

As a result, the report warns, the total number of uninsured Americans could rise from around 28 million today to 40 million, with the impact disproportionately falling on the millions of people living in states that have not expanded Medicaid.

“We need to drop the Medicare eligibility age to 0 right now,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), a vocal supporter of Medicare for All, tweeted in response to the new study.

“Good-quality health care should not be tied to your job,” tweeted Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a Democratic presidential candidate, in response to the new report. “At a minimum, the government must ensure health care for all, without cost, for the duration of this crisis.”

As Common Dreams reported, the Economic Policy Institute estimated Thursday that 3.5 million people have likely already lost their employer-provided insurance over just the last two weeks as the coronavirus pandemic continues to drive mass layoffs across the U.S. The Department of Labor announced Thursday that 6.6 million people filed jobless claims last week alone.

Ryan Cooper, national correspondent for The Week, wrote in a column Friday that “thanks to America’s uniquely boneheaded insistence on tying health insurance to employment,” the U.S. healthcare system “is in very real danger of collapsing altogether” without immediate and sweeping action from Congress.

“Whatever it is, it needs to be big, and it needs to happen yesterday,” wrote Cooper. “The national health insurance system is crumbling more with every day that passes.”

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