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  • As health insurance is tied to employment for about half the population in the US, 43m are expected to lose their health insurance amid the pandemic.

    As health insurance is tied to employment for about half the population in the US, 43m are expected to lose their health insurance amid the pandemic. | Photo: AFP

Published 10 May 2020
Opinion

"The American healthcare financing system was not built to withstand the combined impact of a pandemic and a recession," the President of Physicians for a National Health Program Adam Gaffney said.

Progressives and Medicare for All defenders in the United States (U.S.) pointed Sunday to the incoming health insurance crisis due to the massive layoffs triggered by quarantine measures to fight the spread of the new coronavirus in the country.

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The looming crisis was revealed by a new report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and the Urban Institute, published on May 4.

As health insurance is tied to employment for about half the population i.e. 160 million people, 43 million are expected to lose their health insurance in the midst of the worst pandemic in a century, the analysts said, predicting that this will happen as soon as the unemployment rate reaches 20 percent.

The current unemployment rate is 14.7 percent, according to the Department of Labor - the biggest in the country's history. But some economists estimate that between 19 and almost 24 percent of citizens in the U.S. are actually unemployed, including those who lost their jobs within the last two weeks and those who have not filed for jobless claims.

The pandemic "exposes a lot of the inadequacies in our system," RWJF senior policy analyst Katherine Hempstead told The Guardian, adding that healthcare is "tied to employment for no real reason."

Indiana Democratic candidate Veronikka Ziol, who is running for election to the U.S. House of Representatives, said on social media that there is a reason to link medical care to their ability to jobs that offer health benefits. 

"It's to hold a bargaining chip over the working-class's head,” she said. "Do what we want for the pittance we're paying, or you're going to lose your healthcare." 

"This is why we need Medicare for All," Ziol added.

Among those who lost their employer-based insurance, up to seven million will remain uninsured because unable to access healthcare through Medicaid or Continuation of Health Coverage (COBRA; the law permitting citizens to pay for the health insurance they once received through a job) which can cost hundreds of dollars monthly for just one person. 

With millions joining the more than 27 million who were already uninsured before the pandemic, the RWJF and the Urban Institute raised alarms that many will avoid medical attention if they start showing symptoms of the coronavirus, risking thus to spread the illness in their communities.

"The American healthcare financing system was not built to withstand the combined impact of a pandemic and a recession," the president of Physicians for a National Health Program, Adam Gaffney, told The Guardian. "It's inevitable that people will die because they can't get the care they need, because of the looming recession."

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