16.2 million workers have likely lost employer-provided health insurance since the coronavirus shock began
Since the economic fallout of the coronavirus shock began in early March, the number of workers laid off or furloughed—as measured by new claims for unemployment insurance (UI)—has skyrocketed. We have used data from states that track UI claims by industry to get a rough estimate of how many workers are at high risk of losing their employer-provided health insurance (EPHI) over this as well.
The methodology is described in this blog post, and the underlying UI data (which has begun to include more and more states tracking UI claims by industry) can be found here. Table 1 below shows UI claims by industry across states that collect this data, and also shows employer-provided health insurance (EPHI) coverage rates in those industries in 2018. As of May 9, more than 35 million workers had been laid off or furloughed since mid-March, as measured by total initial UI claims during that period. We find that this translates into likely EPHI losses of 16.2 million.
Because the United States is unique among rich countries in tying health insurance benefits to employment, many of the newly unemployed will suddenly face prohibitively costly insurance options. A comprehensive policy solution would be to extend Medicare and Medicaid to all those suffering job losses during the pandemic period, with the federal government funding this expansion. It has been proposed that the federal government pay for all of COBRA coverage so that workers who are laid off or furloughed may continue their employer-provided coverage. While this policy proposal will help many workers continue coverage, in some states it will not help workers from small businesses with fewer than 20 employees, who are not eligible for COBRA.
The linkage between specific jobs and the availability of health insurance is a prime source of inefficiency and inequity in the U.S. health system. It is especially terrifying for workers to lose their health insurance as a result of, and during, an ongoing pandemic.
New UI claims and employer-provided health insurance losses between March 15 and May 9, by industry
|Industry||Total job losses (UI initial claims)||Share of workers with EPHI||EPHI job losses||Total job losses as a share of industry employment|
|Accommodation and Food Services||7,202,686||23.9%||1,718,609||49.8%|
|Admin. and Support, Waste Mgmt. and Remediation Services||3,053,035||39.1%||1,194,638||32.0%|
|Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing, and Hunting||108,900||29.4%||31,986||7.8%|
|Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation||1,290,411||37.4%||482,869||44.2%|
|Finance and Insurance||269,356||70.5%||189,895||4.4%|
|Health Care and Social Assistance||4,397,920||56.8%||2,497,604||19.7%|
|Management of Companies and Enterprises||272,555||63.6%||173,394||11.2%|
|Mining, Quarrying, and Oil and Gas Extraction||162,985||74.7%||121,677||24.0%|
|Other Services (except Public Administration)||1,888,972||33.3%||629,972||40.8%|
|Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services||1,338,212||61.0%||816,355||13.8%|
|Real Estate and Rental and Leasing||515,675||46.5%||239,879||21.9%|
|Transportation and Warehousing||1,406,651||58.5%||822,525||22.1%|
Source: Authors’ analysis of state-level UI claims, US Department of Labor UI Claims, Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages data, and the 2018 Annual Social and Economic Supplement to the Current Population Survey.
We additionally allocate EPHI losses across states, taking account of each state’s industry mix (again, the methodology for this calculation can be found here). The map below shows these losses allocated across states.
New UI claims and employer-provided health insurance losses between March 15 and May 9, by state
|State||Total job losses (UI initial claims)||EPHI job losses||Total job losses as a share of industry employment|
Note: EPHI losses are estimated unemployment insurance (UI) claims associated with employer-provided health insurance loss.
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