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In the past two weeks an estimated 3.5 million workers are expected to lose their employer-provided health insurance,1 leaving many of our people forced to pay for COBRA (continuation of health coverage) in the middle of a pandemic if we don’t act.
The cost of COBRA coverage is estimated at $633 a month depending on the bi-weekly deductions from wages. Also, a loss in job-provided coverage will result in a switch to COBRA coverage forcing individuals to lose the tax-free benefit of the premiums being deducted from their paychecks pre-tax.2 As many Black people are facing lay-offs there should not be an expectation to shell out money for health care coverage. According to studies, the COVID-19 (coronavirus) economic freeze could cost 47 million jobs causing many of our people to be out of work and without insurance coverage.3
An alarming number of Black people have less access to health insurance and paid leave, and many also are putting themselves in harm’s way to hold on to hourly low-wage jobs for fear of losing health care coverage during this pandemic.4 This deadly choice between making a living and simply living puts unnecessary strain on our people. Black folks remain among the most vulnerable communities to be affected by coronavirus due to pre-existing health conditions such as asthma and heart disease. In Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, as of Friday morning, 81 percent of the deaths were black people while Black people make up only 26 percent of that county.5 As of Sunday, in Chicago’s Cook County 70 percent of coronavirus deaths are black, while black residents make up only 23 percent of the population in the county.6 More than ever Black people need health insurance. In a time of economic and health-related uncertainty, no person should be concerned about whether they will have health insurance.
Roughly half of American health insurance is provided through an employer.7 If you lose your job, you’re typically eligible for COBRA which will allow an employee to keep the same employer-provided health insurance. However, with claims of unemployment soaring by the day, the idea of paying a COBRA premium along with maintaining a household is absurd. According to the Federal Reserve's 2018 report on the economic well-being of U.S. households, 40% of American adults wouldn’t be able to cover a $400 emergency with cash, savings, or a credit-card. The highest jobless rate during the Great Recession, which ended in 2009, was 10%. The nation’s unemployment rate could approach 32% - with over 10 million unemployment claims filed within the last two weeks.8,9 In today’s volatile economic climate, no one should be expected to pay for COBRA to be protected from coronavirus.
Major insurance providers should step up and protect Black people instead of forcing them to shell out an outrageous fee to stay alive. Insurance companies have waived prior authorizations and co-pays but this is not enough.10 Thus far only 37 states have issued waivers to modify certain Medicare, Medicaid, and CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program) provisions following a state of emergency declared by the Trump administration on March 13th.11 However, this expansion doesn’t cover all low-income coronavirus testing and treatment - leaving Black people further excluded and targeted through policy that does not consider our needs.12
Black people are already systematically disadvantaged due to access to health care, lack of cultural competence by providers, and implicit bias in rendering healthcare services, and the threat of coronavirus adds an additional layer to these quality-of-life issues.13 Private equity vultures are seeking to exploit our country's healthcare crisis by buying up hospitals that are saddled with debt, displacing critical healthcare staff and disrupting efforts to eradicate this virus.14 Politicians and policy makers are overlooking the nuanced needs of Black communities, while insurance companies are ignoring their main responsibility to consumers and policy holders. The basic needs of health care coverage for our people must be met to ensure proper allocation of healthcare services and coronavirus testing.
Until justice is real,
--Brandi, Rashad, Arisha, Evan, Johnny, Jade, Amanda, Eesha, Samantha, Marcus, FolaSade, Jennette, Cierra and the rest of the Color Of Change team
- 3.5 Million Workers Likely Lost Their Employer-provided Health Insurance In The Past Two Weeks,” Economic Policy Institute, April 2, 2020, https://act.colorofchange.org/go/243692?t=10&akid=41897%2E364605%2EMuPpJc.
- “How Much Does COBRA Health Insurance Cost?,” Very Well Health, February 15, 2020, https://act.colorofchange.org/go/243693?t=12&akid=41897%2E364605%2EMuPpJc.
- “Coronavirus Job Losses Could Total 47 Million, Unemployment Rate May Hit 32%, Fed Estimates,” CNBC, March 30, 2020, https://act.colorofchange.org/go/243694?t=14&akid=41897%2E364605%2EMuPpJc.
- “Rumor, Disparity and Distrust: Why Black Americans Face an Uphill Battle Against COVID-19,” U.S. News & World Report, March 25, 2020, https://act.colorofchange.org/go/243139?t=16&akid=41897%2E364605%2EMuPpJc.
- “Early Data Shows African Americans Have Contracted and Died of Coronavirus at an Alarming Rate,” ProPublica, April 3, 2020, https://act.colorofchange.org/go/243705?t=18&akid=41897%2E364605%2EMuPpJc.
- “In Chicago, 70% of COVID-19 Deaths Are Black,” WBEZ 91.5 Chicago, April 5, 2020, https://act.colorofchange.org/go/243706?t=20&akid=41897%2E364605%2EMuPpJc.
- “How To Get Health Insurance If You Lose Your Job Over The Coronavirus,” Acorns + CNBC, March 26, 2020, https://act.colorofchange.org/go/243696?t=22&akid=41897%2E364605%2EMuPpJc.
- “Coronavirus Job Losses Could Total 47 Million,” CNBC. March 30, 2020, https://act.colorofchange.org/go/243694?t=24&akid=41897%2E364605%2EMuPpJc.
- “U.S. Unemployment Claims Soar To Record 3.3 Million As Layoffs Jump,” Huffington Post, March 26, 2020, https://act.colorofchange.org/go/243697?t=26&akid=41897%2E364605%2EMuPpJc.
- “Health Insurance Providers Activate Emergency Plans To Help Stop COVID-19,” KHOU, March 26, 2020, https://act.colorofchange.org/go/243700?t=28&akid=41897%2E364605%2EMuPpJc.
- “Medicaid Emergency Authority Tracker: Approved State Actions to Address COVID-19,” Kaiser Family Foundation, April 1, 2020, https://act.colorofchange.org/go/243701?t=30&akid=41897%2E364605%2EMuPpJc.
- “Trump Administration Approves 1st Medicaid Waiver To Combat Coronavirus,” Healthcare Dive, March 17, 2020, https://act.colorofchange.org/go/243702?t=32&akid=41897%2E364605%2EMuPpJc.
- “How Racial Health Disparities Will Play Out in the Pandemic,” Slate, March 30, 2020, https://act.colorofchange.org/go/243703?t=34&akid=41897%2E364605%2EMuPpJc.
- “Coronavirus and the Implications of Private Equity Buyouts in Healthcare,” Center For Economic and Policy Research, March 25, 2020, https://act.colorofchange.org/go/243707?t=36&akid=41897%2E364605%2EMuPpJc.