Massive coverage losses are greatly exaggerated

Roughly 6.2 million U.S. workers lost employer-sponsored insurance coverage between February and July. Factor in family members and dependents, and that number increases to 12 million people.

Estimates like this underpin a narrative that large segments of the country are unable to get medical care in the midst of the pandemic. But the number of Americans without access to care — or coverage — is smaller than these numbers suggest.

Consider the health insurance options available to those who have lost their jobs. One is a program known as COBRA, which enables workers to remain in their employer-sponsored health plans after being laid off or furloughed. Normally, patients have 60 days to avail themselves of this option. But that time limit has been extended during the pandemic to at least 120 days.

Short-term limited-duration insurance is another option. Since short-term plans aren’t subject to Obamacare’s regulations — including guaranteed issue, community rating and the 10 Essential Health Benefits mandates — they’re more affordable than the plans sold on the exchanges. In some cases, premiums for short-term plans are almost 50% lower than exchange plan premiums for comparable coverage.

These health insurance options explain why some of the forecasts of COVID-19-related coverage loss are off target. According to a recent report from the Galen Institute, 98% of Americans insured through their jobs before the pandemic have maintained coverage.

To the extent that the uninsured rate does increase in the wake of COVID-19, much of the blame lies with Obamacare. Between 2016 and 2018, the number of uninsured Americans increased — something that Obamacare was supposed to prevent. When asked why they went without coverage, 45% of the uninsured population cited cost. Between 2013 — the year before Obamacare’s marketplaces opened for business — and 2017, individual-market premiums more than doubled.

Affordable insurance options exist for those hit hardest by the pandemic and the economic shutdowns. But they exist despite Obamacare, not because of it.

Sally C. Pipes is president, CEO, and Thomas W. Smith fellow in healthcare policy at the Pacific Research Institute. Her latest book is False Premise, False Promise: The Disastrous Reality of Medicare for All (Encounter 2020). Follow her on Twitter @sallypipes.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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