As Unemployment Rises, so Does Health Care Insecurity

As unemployment rates soar to record highs, patients face new health care access challenges. 

For many of the 25 million recently unemployed Americans, the financial instability caused by losing their job is further complicated by also losing their health insurance. Over half of people in the U.S. receive health coverage through their employer. But without a job or employer-sponsored insurance, people must find other ways to cover health care costs.

Patients with routine medical expenses may need to find a marketplace insurance plan as quickly as possible. Marketplace plans are available either through the state or the federal government depending on where the patient lives. While enrollment usually occurs only once a year, job loss qualifies patients for a special enrollment period. Picking up the tab for new coverage may be eased by subsidies based on income and household size. For other patients, state Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program may have free or low-cost coverage options. 

Yet financial strain still may cause some patients to forego health insurance. Without coverage, patients may avoid routine care, allowing minor problems to escalate into serious health concerns before seeking treatment. Uninsured patients may then face exorbitant out-of-pocket costs for emergency care. One hospital bill could become a lifelong debt. 

The economics of health care are complicated, but one fact is clear. The repercussions of unemployment are especially pressing for people with serious or pre-existing medical conditions. For example, a recent survey confirms that economic strain and job loss have impeded cancer patients’ ability to access care. Nearly 40% of respondents reported that COVID-19’s financial impact has affected their ability to pay for health care.

The rise in unemployment and financial instability has created new access issues for some patients while accentuating existing challenges for others. As policymakers chart a path forward, they must stay mindful of the connection between economic challenges and health care coverage – and the importance of maintaining access for millions of affected Americans.

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