More than 5 million Americans have lost their employer-sponsored health insurance due to coronavirus-related unemployment, according to a new study from FamiliesUSA. In response, Democrats are renewing their push for "Medicare-for-all".
Just this week, 360 Democratic delegates promised to vote against any party platform that doesn't endorse single-payer health care. In their formal petition, they cite insurance losses from the pandemic as a chief reason why they consider "Medicare-for-all" non-negotiable.
But this political ploy is based on bad information. While the pandemic has cost millions of workers their jobs, many of them still have access to affordable coverage. Citing the coronavirus-fueled economic crisis as a reason to scrap private insurance is deeply irresponsible -- and would leave the vast majority of Americans worse off.
For starters, it's far from clear that the turmoil in the labor market has led to droves of people ending up uninsured. According to an analysis by the Galen Institute, nearly 98 percent of Americans who had employer-based coverage before the pandemic have maintained employer coverage.
Further, more than half of workers who have been furloughed during the pandemic still have their employer-sponsored insurance, according to a recent survey from the Commonwealth Fund.
Those who lost employer-sponsored coverage because they lost their jobs have the option of staying on their health plan through a federal program known as COBRA. Such coverage can be pricey since patients must pick up the entire premium. But for Americans who enjoy their job-based coverage and can afford it, these high premiums can be worth the expense.
People who are newly unemployed can also sign up for coverage through ObamaCare's exchanges outside the normal fall open enrollment period. They may even qualify for taxpayer-subsidized coverage.
Those subsidies are often necessary to make exchange coverage affordable, as ObamaCare's onerous insurance-market regulations have caused premiums to surge. As of 2017, average premiums for individual plans on the federally run HealthCare.gov exchange had more than doubled from where they were in 2013, before the marketplaces opened for business in January 2014.
Short-term, limited-duration health plans are another option for the uninsured. According to research from eHealth, an online insurance broker, average premiums for an individual short-term plan are $113 a month -- about one-fourth those for a traditional plan.
A study from the Manhattan Institute found that premiums for short-term plans were lower than -- and in some cases, almost half the cost of -- premiums on the exchange for similar levels of coverage.
Short-term plans are cheaper because they're exempt from many of ObamaCare's cost-inflating mandates. They're expressly designed to fill gaps in coverage for people who are between jobs.
In 2018, the Trump administration boosted the utility of short-term plans by extending their maximum duration from three months, as it was under President Obama, to 364 days. The administration's rule has been challenged twice -- and upheld by the courts twice, most recently in a 2-1 ruling in July by a panel of the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
Unfortunately, some states -- including New York, New Jersey, and California -- have outright banned the plans. But for patients who haven't been deliberately denied affordable coverage in this way, short-term plans remain a workable tool for staying insured during the coronavirus downturn.
Finally, enrolling in Medicaid is an option for those with no savings to fall back on. So the idea that Americans rendered jobless by the pandemic are without coverage options is plainly false.
Yet much of Democrats' case for "Medicare-for-all" relies on scaring Americans into thinking that they're one misstep away from ruin -- and thus need the government to take care of them.
But as we see in other countries with socialized medicine, single-payer would consign Americans to long waits and rationed care. They wouldn't have access to the latest drugs and medical technology. And they'd have fewer choices in where and how to receive care. Doctors are likely to respond to Medicare for All's lower payment rates by reducing the supply of care they're willing to provide -- or leaving the profession altogether.
It makes little sense to cancel the coverage of the more than 150 million people who get it through work to address the needs of a mere fraction who are currently uninsured because of the worst economic crisis in a century. But that's what Democrats bent on "Medicare-for-all" are aiming to do.