More than 3 million Americans just lost their jobs in the middle of a global pandemic. For those whose jobs offered benefits, that also probably means they’re losing their health insurance, too — exposing yet another way in which the US health system is vulnerable amid a public health emergency.
And what are all of those people supposed to do now, during the Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak, when having health coverage is as vital, or more so, than ever?
”With the number of people losing their jobs, there’s little doubt that the number of people uninsured is increasing right now,” Larry Levitt, senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation, told me, “at the exact time when some of them will need health care the most if they become infected and seriously ill.”
We don’t know exactly how much the uninsured rate is increasing — and it might not be by a full 3 million people, but not necessarily for fortunate reasons. A lot of these newly unemployed people probably didn’t have health insurance, or they already rely on public programs like Medicaid or the Affordable Care Act.
The workers most vulnerable to losing their jobs from Covid-19 were more likely to work in the service or retail industries, and they were more likely to be low-wage workers.
Survey data from the Kaiser Family Foundation indicates cooks, waiters and waitresses, sales workers, and cashiers are some of the jobs with the highest uninsured rates in the US. The food service industry has the most workers on Medicaid, according to KFF, with about 1.4 million already covered by the government program.
These jobs don’t pay particularly well, and the businesses that employ these workers are less likely to offer health insurance at all. About one-third of retail firms provide health benefits, and the service industry also ranks behind most others in providing health coverage.