Most Unemployed Americans Have No Healthcare Insurance

Nearly 75 percent of unemployed Americans can’t afford needed healthcare or have their prescriptions filled; another 50 percent struggle with medical bills or medical debt.  As many as 60 percent of working Americans depend on employer-based health insurance;  when 15 million working-age adults lost their jobs between 2008 and 2010, an estimated nine million also lost their health insurance, according to the Commonwealth Fund report.

The report also concludes that when the most important provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) are fully in effect in 2014, unemployed people will have more health insurance choices.  Unfortunately, the current lack of options has led to a health and financial crisis for many Americans who lost their health insurance benefits along with their jobs.  The report’s researchers analyzed data from the 2010 Commonwealth Fund Biennial Health Insurance Survey.

“It’s clear from this report that losing a job and health insurance simultaneously is a serious threat to a family’s health and financial stability,” Commonwealth Fund President Karen Davis said.  She noted that “the Affordable Care Act will assure that families already struggling with the devastation of unemployment will still be able to get the health care they need and will be protected if they become seriously ill.”

The survey of 3,033 adults was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International between July, 2010, and November, 2010.  The results indicate that many individuals who lost health coverage are carrying medical debt or skipping needed healthcare or neglect to fill prescriptions because of cost.  In 2010, two of five (40 percent) adults aged 19 to 64 — or 73 million people — reported difficulty paying medical bills, being contacted by a collection agency about unpaid bills, having to change their way of life to pay bills.  This is up from 34 percent, or 58 million people, in 2005.  Increasingly, cost is becoming a barrier to getting needed care. 

Approximately 70 percent of adults who earned less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level and lost their jobs and health benefits became uninsured, compared with about 42 percent of those at or above 200 percent of the poverty level.  Just eight percent of lower-income workers continued their coverage through COBRA after losing their jobs, compared with about 21 percent of those with higher incomes who chose COBRA. 

“Clearly, COBRA subsidies made a big difference for millions of unemployed people who had no other option for affordable health insurance coverage,” Michelle Doty, vice president at the Commonwealth Fund said.  “As the economy continues to struggle to recover, extending those subsidies would assure that workers, particularly those with lower incomes, could maintain their health insurance.”

The report  — which advocates for universal coverage — the Commonwealth Fund said that 60 percent of those left uninsured during the recession were unable to find a replacement plan they could afford and 35 percent were refused coverage by insurers.  “Once you are unemployed and uninsured, it’s nearly impossible to afford COBRA or buy an individual policy,” said Commonwealth Fund Vice President Sara Collins.

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