‘Threadbare’ US System Denounced as Study Shows 12 Million Lost Employer-Tied Health Care During Pandemic

Yves here. Although Lambert and I bristle at equating “health insurance” with “health care,” it is true that most people who lose their health insurance wind up cutting way back on health care treatments since they can’t afford the cost. And from a public heath, and even family budget standpoint, skimping on health care can easily be penny-wise, pound foolish, since early treatment is often less costly that later intervention. And that before getting to disgraces like the loss of insurance leading to an inability to pay for critical medications like insulin.

By Lisa Newcomb, staff writer at Common Dreams. Originally published at Common Dreams

Medicare for All advocates had new reason to decry the U.S. system that ties the healthcare for many to employment after a new study released Wednesday showed an estimate 12 million Americans have lost their employer-sponsored insurance coverage since the Covid-19 pandemic hit earlier this year.

“Because most U.S. workers rely on their employer or a family member’s employer for health insurance, the shock of the coronavirus has cost millions of Americans their jobs and their access to healthcare in the midst of a public health catastrophe,” Josh Bivens, co-author of the study and director of research at the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), said in a statement announcing the findings.

“Tying health insurance to the labor market is always terribly inefficient and problematic, but becomes particularly so during times of great labor market churn,” said Bivens.

The think tank pointed to a clear way to prevent job loss from equaling loss of health insurance.

“Delinking health insurance with jobs should be a top policy priority,” EPI tweeted in a thread about the study and the authors’ takeaways. “The most ambitious and transformational way to sever this link is to make the federal government the payer of first resort for all health care expenses—a ‘single payer’ plan like #MedicareForAll.”

But despite growing popularity of such a system among the American public, neither the Republican nor Democratic party platforms embrace the idea, despite continued advocacy from more progressive members of Congress and activists.

Rep. Ilhan Omar, (D-Minn.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) introduced legislation this month to cover out-of-pocket healthcare expenses of all Americans during the pandemic by authorizing a wealth tax. Entitled the “Make Billionaires Pay Act,” the measure would be funded by taxing the wealth gains accrued by billionaires since March as millions of Americans lost their jobs. Both Sanders and Omar have co-sponsored Medicare for All legislation in the past, and the EPI study’s authors urged lawmakers to act quickly.

“The coronavirus pandemic has exposed how incomplete and threadbare the U.S. safety net and social insurance system is,” said Ben Zipperer, an economist and study co-author. “In order to help millions of Americans during the pandemic and beyond, policymakers must take swift action to address the inequities and inefficiencies in our health care system.”

EPI also noted online Wednesday that a single-payer system would not be a job killer, as its opponents like to assert.

“Medicare for All is a hugely ambitious policy, and there’s a lot to debate about it. But the idea it would have a massive job-killing effect is a fake story,” Bivens said in an explainer video EPI shared on Twitter Wednesday.

“At a minimum, policymakers concerned about Americans’ health security should have the federal government pay for all testing and treatment for Covid-19 related expenses in coming months,” Bivens and Zipperer wrote.

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  1. DJG

    Thanks for this. It is always good to get the latest from Briahna Joy Gray.

    I am surprised that you didn’t comment on the adjective “threadbare.” The system isn’t threadbare. The health-insurance system is designed to chain people to their jobs, ration health care, reward the “managers” of insurance companies rather than the people who work in medical care, and instill insecurity into already insecure and fearful Americans.

    In her insightful book The Nordic Theory of Everything, Anu Partanen, a Finn who emigrated to New York, writes extensively on how health insurance deforms economic relations and personal decisions in the U S of A, the most notorious case being how to get through the health-insurance system more or less unscathed while having a baby.

    1. Arizona Slim

      Thanks for the book recommendation. Just put a request in at my local refuge from neoliberalism and late-stage capitalism, the public library.

      1. DJG

        Arizona Slim: Wait till you get to the rather sly comments about how U.S. economic insecurities affect women and who they are willing to date. It turns out that Finns are wild romantics compared to the dollars-and-cents of U.S. matchmaking. It’s as if the status of American women hasn’t evolved at all since Lily Bart and The House of Mirth.

    2. rd

      Yes. Health care insurance loss due to job loss is a feature, not a bug. It makes people desperate to work for almost any wage if the employer will provide health care isnurance.

      1. Ian Ollmann

        Maybe it once did, but healthcare insurance costs so much these days, that many or most jobs come without insurance.

  2. LowellHighlander

    While we are pushing for a rational health-care system (i.e. single-payer), I want to remind good people that, as one of the candidates in the presidential primary for the Green Party (whose name I can’t recall at the moment) pointed out, neighborhoods and other locales with mostly African-American residents lack even the health care facilities to take advantage of Medicare for All. Thus, we should also be pushing for building new clinics, hospitals, and other health-care facilities in such health-care “deserts”.

    1. Judith

      Excellent point. Rural areas, flyover country, and areas of impoverishment in general as well.

  3. Susan the other

    This is such an encouraging post. Everybody is calling it correctly – except the pols. The disconnect here isn’t small – it represents a totally corrupt and dysfunctional “government.” We deserve nothing less than a decent government – one that can actually achieve the things society needs. So the logical next question is, How do we go about getting one when our vote is meaningless?

  4. Synoia

    How would Doctor’s stall up-sell under medicare-for-all? The profit motive, and the profit, would be gone.

    Doctors and their staff would be reduced to treating patients for a flat fee!!

    As I advance towards the grave, I’m appalled and disgusted at the amount of up-selling to the “elderly.”

    Doctors appear more focused on money than patients. It is nakedly voracious behavior.

  5. Xrystia

    There is a huge difference between Medicare Advantage and traditional Medicare. In all the discussion re M4all or single payer I‘ve never heard anyone address the difference or which one they are advocating for. Insurance companies are well prepared to offer M.Advantage. This is what they’re marketing with millions of dollars. M. Advantage is still insurance where they game network and out of network super bills. I’m 73 I chose traditional (original) Medicare and I see any doctor or hospital I want and pay $0. As long as they accept Medicare and most do. This is the true single payer system with government paying the bills. And no insurance company involvement. It is really disturbing that the discussion re Medicare does not make that distinction as I can see insurance. Companies bamboozling everyone into Advantage and we’ll end up with hundreds of ins.companies gaming the system for their profit as the government (taxpayers) pay all the bills and guarantee their profit margins.

  6. jackiebass

    Initially the idea of health insurance tied to employment came from businesses. They wanted to use this benefit to help recruit workers. I think this happened after WWII. The rest of the world went to universal coverage but the US got stuck with our present system.It surprises me that businesses now don’t push for universal coverage. It would take them off the hook of providing health insurance for its workers.

    1. Jack

      Employer provided health insurance actually started during WWII. Wages were frozen because of the severe labor shortages. Employers started offering health benefits to attract workers. Then, the IRS in 1943 made health benefits non-taxable.

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