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When Losing Your Job Means Losing Your Health Coverage During a Pandemic, What Happens Next?

Last week, over 74,000 Floridians filed for first time unemployment benefits.

Our country is unique among first-world countries in that we rely heavily on employers to voluntarily provide health coverage for workers and their families. We know this system fails to cover millions of workers as well as millions of others out of the workforce. However, it took a pandemic to uncover one glaring weakness.

When people lose their jobs, they also lose their employment group health insurance. COBRA is an intermediate solution, but only for those who can afford paying an entire insurance premium themselves. It is safe to say that the majority of newly unemployed will go without insurance and health care coverage.

Congress is on the verge to pass a two trillion-dollar rescue package that will address some of the issues facing families in this new reality. The bill includes funding for companies to keep people employed, but nothing about health insurance premiums. For most small businesses this is usually their third largest cost after purchasing goods and paying employees.

Many employees recently laid off and not receiving health insurance coverage through their employer, may be covered through the federal marketplace. The highest amount of unemployment benefits in the state of Florida is $275 per week. If you must choose between rent or mortgage, food, utilities, car payments and health insurance premiums, insurance usually loses out.

It doesn’t have to be this way if the Florida legislature and governor would expand Medicaid, just like 37 other states and the District of Columbia have done. In these expansion states the recently unemployed would qualify for Medicaid and would not have the additional worry of being uninsured while also worrying about how to pay the bills.

Medicaid is crucial during economic downturns, enabling people to access coverage and care in times of financial stress. This was especially true between 2008 and 2009 when Medicaid stepped in to provide coverage to 500,000 additional enrollees after 330,000 Floridians lost their jobs.

Individuals who gained Medicaid coverage are less likely to have medical debt and less likely to have experienced catastrophic medical expenses. Now all Florida legislators have to do is expand coverage to all Floridians making less than the federal poverty level.

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