Nearly 27 million people are estimated to have lost employer-sponsored health coverage because of the massive layoffs stemming from the coronavirus pandemic.
The staggering figure comes from a new analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation and shows the vast toll the pandemic is having on health insurance and other benefits offered by employers. Although some employers have enhanced or added benefits to help employees during the pandemic, a number of companies have been forced to shut their doors or lay off workers, leaving millions uninsured.
Even though some employees who lose employer-sponsored insurance have other options for coverage, millions are likely to remain uninsured because of the high cost of continuing coverage—leaving many vulnerable for care at a time they need it most.
“Unlike in past recessions, most of those who lose their job-based coverage will be eligible for health coverage because of the Affordable Care Act, though some may find coverage unaffordable even with subsidies,” says Larry Levitt, executive vice president for health policy at Kaiser Family Foundation. “As unemployment benefits expire, however, about 2 million more people in states that did not expand their Medicaid programs under the ACA will move into the Medicaid coverage gap and have no affordable option.”
The Kaiser Family Foundation says that while most unemployed workers are eligible for coverage under the Affordable Care Act, not all will take it up. In addition, 5.7 million are not eligible for help under the ACA and would have to pay the full cost of their coverage. Many of them will likely remain uninsured.
While many can get COBRA to extend their employer-sponsored coverage, it’s a largely expensive plan that many workers forgo due to cost. In response, a group called the Alliance to Fight for Health Care—made up of employers, insurers and other benefit industry insiders—is urging Congress to help them maintain employer-sponsored healthcare as the coronavirus pandemic threatens to dismantle coverage for millions of employees.
Among the steps they are asking for is providing funding for COBRA coverage to allow people to stay on their employer-provided health care coverage, even if they lose their jobs.
“Subsidizing COBRA continuation coverage is the most efficient and effective way to deliver vital protection to America’s families during this period of unprecedented job loss,” says Jim Klein, a member of the Alliance to Fight for Health Care and the president of the American Benefits Council.