Nearly 5.5 million people who lost their jobs between February and May of this year also lost their health insurance, according to a new analysis released Tuesday.
The analysis from Families USA, a consumer health care advocacy organization, finds that the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic crisis have caused the greatest health insurance losses in American history.
Nearly half of the coverage losses occurred in five states: California, Texas, Florida, New York and North Carolina.
“Families in America are losing comprehensive health insurance in record numbers,” the authors of the analysis wrote. “This creates particularly serious dangers during a grave public health crisis and deep economic downturn.”
Coverage losses are likely steep because about half of Americans get health coverage through their jobs.
However, the 5.4 million people who are estimated to have also lost their health insurance doesn’t count family members who might also have been on those plans.
The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that as of May 2, nearly 27 million people could have lost employer-sponsored insurance, including family members.
The coverage losses are particularly troubling during a pandemic, when individuals might contract COVID-19 and need testing or treatment that is typically costly without insurance.
Most people who become uninsured will be eligible to sign up for Medicaid or if they lost job-based coverage, they will qualify for a special enrollment period on ObamaCare’s healthcare.gov marketplace.
The Trump administration has also vowed to reimburse hospitals for the treatment of uninsured COVID-19 patients, but it is not clear how successful that program has been.
It’s also unclear how aware individuals are of these options, particularly if they are dealing with other stresses caused by the pandemic, including sickness of themselves or friends and family, job loss or working from home while caring for children, or other difficulties.
The Families USA analysis notes that people without insurance are less likely to get prompt diagnosis and treatment for conditions like cancer and heart disease.
States that have not expanded Medicaid to cover more low-income adults have historically had higher uninsured rates. Now those rates are even higher, according to the analysis, which estimated an uninsured rate of 29 percent non-elderly adults in Texas as of May.
Eight states are estimated to have an uninsured rate of at least 20 percent, according to the analysis, including Texas, Florida, Oklahoma, Georgia, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina and South Carolina. All but Nevada have refused to expand Medicaid to cover more low-income adults.
In states that expanded Medicaid, individuals who earn under a certain amount are eligible to enroll in the program at any time, serving as a backstop for individuals for people who lose their source of income.
Families USA, which is a proponent of Medicaid expansion, argues the easiest way to ensure people who are laid off keep their insurance is through subsidies.
Federal law lets people continue participating in their employer-sponsored health plan for up to 18 months after job loss, but the employer typically does not continue paying part of the premium, making this an expensive option for some.
A bill passed by House Democrats — which Families USA supports — would fully subsidize these plans for laid-off and furloughed workers.
The bill has not received consideration in the Republican-controlled Senate.
House Democrats also recently passed a bill that would incentivize states to expand Medicaid, but it is unlikely to go anywhere in the Senate.