By Peter Cherry
5.4 million people in the US have lost health insurance coverage corresponding to job losses that happened between February and May, making it the largest single-year drop in health coverage ever in the US.
“We knew these numbers would be big,” said Stan Dorn, the executive director of NGO National Center for Coverage Innovation. “This is the worst economic downturn since World War II. It dwarfs the Great Recession. So it’s not surprising that we would also see the worst increase in the uninsured.”
The rising number of uninsured people is climbing as the benefits from the CARES Act, the $2 trillion economic stimulus bill passed in March, are set to expire by the end of July, compounding the hardship faced by the unemployed.
Aside from the fear of getting sick at a time when the broken healthcare system cannot provide enough care to meet the high demand, many workers now also have to worry about how they’re going to pay for treatment if they can get it. Even before the pandemic, 32% of workers had medical debt (half of which defaulted), and now that percentage is likely to grow.
The loss of health insurance through unemployment has been aggravated by state cuts to healthcare funding. In Colorado, legislators cut millions from mental health and substance abuse treatment programs, and hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts have been proposed in Nevada and New York. These austerity policies are in response to the general economic crisis of US imperialism, keeping the decaying capitalist system on life support even as actual life support is withheld from millions of the masses during a pandemic.