No, COVID Is Not Causing the Biggest Loss of Health Insurance Ever
As Rahm Emanuel would say, the left never wants to let a crisis go to waste. To capitalize upon a crisis, the left often must first create a crisis.
That’s where a group like Families USA comes in. The advocacy organization recently released a report claiming that the coronavirus pandemic has created the greatest loss of insurance coverage ever. It sounds like an important development — until one considers that not one, but two, separate liberal groups put out estimates showing far less erosion of health coverage than did Families USA.
An Inaccurate Report
The Families USA report claims that 5.4 million individuals became uninsured due to the pandemic. Yet official surveys of health insurance coverage take months (or more often years) to compile. So instead, Families USA used the number of unemployed individuals — which we do know — and applied an Urban Institute model that studied coverage changes from 2014 through 2018, to estimate the number of newly unemployed who will, in turn, become newly uninsured.
Guess who disagrees with Families USA’s methodology, which supposedly relies upon Urban Institute formulae? The Urban Institute itself. It released a separate analysis in July showing coverage losses more than one-third smaller than the Families USA number, or roughly 3.5 million individuals.
Leftist Group Ignores Evidence from Leftist Think-Tank
Families USA also ignores one piece of actual evidence we have about how the current pandemic — not a mathematical model — has affected the health coverage of individuals across America. As others have previously noted, those results suggest that coverage losses associated with the pandemic have remained comparatively small to date.
Specifically, surveys by the Commonwealth Fund, a leftist think-tank, regarding the pandemic do show some coverage losses, but not nearly as large as those suggested by Families USA. Its first survey, conducted in early April, found that only 3 percent of those who had suffered a job loss, pay cut, or reduction in hours had also lost their health coverage. A follow-up survey, conducted from mid-May through early June as businesses began to reopen, suggests much smaller coverage losses than the Families USA survey.
Coverage Losses Smaller Than Advertised
Consider that before the pandemic, the U.S. labor force comprised roughly 164.5 million individuals. According to the June Commonwealth survey, 21 percent of respondents — or 34.5 million Americans — suffered a job loss or furlough:
The Commonwealth study also found that of those who suffered a job loss, 41 percent had coverage through the job they lost. Multiplying the 34.5 million Americans who lost a job by this 41 percent who had coverage from that job equals an estimated 14.2 million Americans in a position to lose employer coverage:
The Commonwealth survey further found that of those who had coverage through a lost or furloughed job, only 21 percent became uninsured, as most retained coverage through their furloughed employer. Multiplying that 14.2 million with the potential to lose employer coverage by 21 percent equals just under 3 million — 2.97 million, to be exact — who actually became uninsured due to the pandemic.
The Families USA report, which relied on a formula from the years 2014-2018, claimed that nearly 5.4 million Americans have become uninsured. But applying the Commonwealth Fund survey results to the entire American labor force yields an increase in the uninsured only about half of the Families USA estimates (55.4 percent, to be precise).
Admittedly, the Commonwealth Fund data come from surveys with their own flaws. Indeed, more people could lose coverage over time, particularly if additional rounds of lockdowns cause further damage to the economy. But why would Families USA ignore a source of actual data from the current pandemic — and one from a leftist think-tank at that?
The report’s title gives away the store: “The COVID-19 Pandemic and Resulting Economic Crash Have Caused the Great Health Insurance Losses in American History.” If Families USA used the Commonwealth Fund data, they couldn’t claim the “greatest health insurance losses ever.”
The Census Bureau found that 3.9 million people lost coverage in 2009, during the Great Recession — compared to just under 3 million during COVID, according to the Commonwealth Fund data. Given the way its report ignored the Commonwealth polling data entirely, a cynic would suggest that Families USA wrote the headline first, then cherry-picked the data it could find to support that headline.
I e-mailed the author of the Families USA report, Stan Dorn, to ask him about the topics discussed above. While he said he would consider publishing an updated analysis that incorporates the Commonwealth research, he offered no indication of why he omitted it from the current analysis.
For months, leftist groups have peddled claims that coronavirus would lead to massive coverage losses. The Kaiser Family Foundation claimed that up to 26.8 million Americans could lose employer-sponsored coverage. Other estimates suggested that as many as 12 million could become uninsured. Even by Families USA’s own highly inflated estimates, neither scenario has come close to materializing.
The left’s desire to create a sense of “crisis” over health coverage to provide the “need” for yet another massive government intervention seems apparent. But those on the left who want to attack conservatives as “science deniers” should first explain why an organization like Families USA ignored facts it considered inconvenient truths in an attempt to attain its own political ends.
This post was originally published at The Federalist.