Health Coverage for Unemployed Harder to Come By in Some States

By: - April 14, 2020 12:00 am

An Illinois woman visits the unemployment office in Arlington Heights last week. Another 6.6 million people filed for unemployment benefits last week, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, and millions of them lost their health insurance with their jobs. Nam Y. Huh/The Associated Press

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Millions of Americans who lost employer-sponsored health plans along with their jobs will be able to turn to Medicaid and state-based Obamacare health insurance exchanges as a safety valve.

Some states have eased those paths, and many are either already seeing an enrollment increase in both programs or expecting one soon.

But in other states, most notably the 14 states that have declined to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, many people are struggling to get coverage at a time of a spreading lethal virus.

Moreover, the federal government is not allowing people who already were without insurance to sign up for an Obamacare policy on, the federal exchange. That affects residents in 38 states.

With the total number of coronavirus cases in the United States at more than 550,000 and growing by more than 30,000 cases a day, health policy experts say the importance of having as many people covered by health plans as possible couldn’t be greater. Ensuring treatment for those with COVID-19 could not only save lives but would help stop the spread of the infection.

“We will hold on to this virus longer, and more people will suffer if people can’t get coverage,” said JoAnn Volk, a research professor at the Center on Health Insurance Reforms at Georgetown.

Unemployment during the crisis could help drive up Medicaid enrollment from 71 million to between 82 million and 94 million, according to a new estimate from Health Management Associates, a health care research and consulting firm.

More than 2.1 million new enrollees could join the 11 million of those already in Obamacare health plans, the firm estimated.

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Michael Ollove

Michael Ollove covers health care for Stateline. Ollove worked for many years at The Baltimore Sun, as an enterprise reporter and an editor.