A Million Texans Will Lose Health Insurance Due To The COVID-19 Recession, Study Finds

COBRA is expensive, and Texas’ decision not to expand Medicaid keeps all but the poorest out of that program.

By Jill AmentMay 20, 2020 12:10 pm, ,

According to recent reports by the Urban Institute and the Kaiser Family Foundation, more than 1 million Texans are projected to lose their health insurance because of the economic recession in the U.S. caused by the coronavirus. That’s in addition to the approximately 5 million people – equivalent to about 18% of the state’s population– who are already uninsured.

Mitchell Schnurman is a business columnist for The Dallas Morning News where he’s been covering the coronavirus’s effect on health care  providers. He told Texas Standard host David Brown that the 1 million identified in the Urban Institute study are people who will lose employer-sponsored insurance – the way in which most Americans get their health insurance. 

“We’ve got about 160 to 180 million people that are covered by insurance … that is sponsored by their employer,” Schnurman said.

Layoffs and furloughs are affecting workers across the country, and, as a consequence, their health insurance coverage. But the problem will likely be especially big in Texas because the state has few alternatives to employer-sponsored coverage. Schnurman said 7 in 10 Americans  who lose employer-based insurance will be able to find an alternative; it’s only 5 in 10 in Texas.

Workers who lose their jobs can purchase insurance through COBRA, the federal law that allows an employee to continue their existing insurance coverage they had through an employer for a limited time by paying the full cost, which is often quite expensive. They can also sign up for insurance under the Affordable Care Act. But Schnurman said many Texans who qualify for the ACA haven’t signed up. 

“We do quite poorly in the share of eligible people signing up the the ACA exchanges,” Schnurman said. “And unlike COBRA, it’s very likely you’re going to get a subsidy. In Texas, over 85% of the people who sign up for the ACA coverage actually get a portion of that paid by the federal government.”

And Medicaid won’t be an option for most Texans. The state did not expand Medicaid once the Affordable Care Act became law, so the only people eligible for coverage through that program are select groups like pregnant women, children or those with disabilities, who also have low incomes. Many adults experiencing poverty aren’t eligible for coverage.

“Texas is the stingiest in the nation,” Schnurman said. “A single mom with two kids – if she is making more than $317 a month … she makes too much to get Medicaid.”

Web story by Shelly Brisbin.


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