Millions of Americans Are About to Lose Their Health Insurance in a Pandemic

Americans are about to learn something horrifying: how irrational it is for health insurance to be linked to your employment status.

By Wendell Potter and cross-posted from The Guardian.

The tragic effects of our battle with the novel coronavirus are seemingly endless. But arguably the most mind-blowing is this: the very pandemic that threatens to infect and kill millions is simultaneously causing many to also lose their health coverage at their gravest time of need.

Here’s how: the virus has caused a public health crisis so severe that people have been forced to stay home, causing businesses to shutter and lay off workers. And with roughly half of Americans getting their health insurance from their employer, these layoffs mean not only losing their income but also their medical coverage. In other words, just as our need for medical care skyrockets in the face of a global pandemic, fewer will have health insurance or be able to afford it. According to one recent report, the cost of treatment for Covid-19 can run around $35,000. As the patient in the report exclaimed: “I was pretty sticker-shocked. I personally don’t know anybody who has that kind of money.”

So, how did we get to such a dire place? Many will sadly lose their jobs over the coming weeks – with one estimate projecting as many as 30%. And as they do, Americans are about to learn something horrifying: how irrational and irresponsible it is for so many to be dependent on employers for health insurance. Take it from me. I’m a former health insurance executive who once profited from this system. It’s time for it to stop.

America needs to finally get out of the business of linking health coverage to job status. Even in better times, this arrangement was a bad idea from a health perspective. Most Americans whose families depend on their employers for coverage are just a layoff away from being uninsured. And now, when many businesses are shutting down and considering layoffs, it’s a public health disaster. Across the country we’re seeing reports of layoffs in almost all industries. As we approach a global recession, some analysts suggest that a million or more US workers will lose their jobs in April alone. Consider what this means for health care in this country

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