For Markus Taylor, a bartender in Los Angeles, California, when his restaurant informed him that he would be furloughed; he had assumed it would be quick. Like the other employees, he had the impression that after 30 days the pandemic would probably be under control. It was only two weeks later that it hit him it would be longer; he realized he should file for unemployment. What he didn’t realize was how the cost of health insurance would impact his finances.
“There was no conscious realization or no understanding, no mention on how long this thing would go. It was anywhere from three months to six months to two months at first. Then the longer it went, the more we knew that this was going to be a long-haul thing. Even then who knows what is going to happen at that point,” stated Taylor.
Lost employment comes with a double punch of losing health insurance
Unfortunately, losing employment can feel like being sucker-punched twice. Around 27 million Americans lost their employer-sponsored health insurance during the pandemic, and for some, it came suddenly. One lady explained in an interview with PBS that her health insurance provider cut services at midnight on the same day that she was laid off. She did not even have enough time to order her family’s medication.
Taylor is in his forties and has an auto-immune disease. The National Health Council has estimated that 133 million Americans have chronic diseases. For those with chronic diseases, the nightmare just gets worse. Not getting their medication is not an option.
Some buy medicine abroad and self-medicate. Even before Covid-19, the American government estimated that 1 million Californians went to Mexico to get health care, many buying medication. However, problems arise if there is no prescription since bringing certain medications over the border is against U.S. law. Then there is the pandemic. Both Mexico and the United States have not fully contained the spread. Traveling across the border is precarious at best; at the time of the writing of this article, the governments restricted non-essential travel.
Many workers never had health insurance in the first place. “I know very few restaurant workers who have health insurance,” Taylor added. “The one person I do know that has health insurance pays over 500 dollars a month. That’s a lot, considering you live in one of the most expensive cities in the United States. So, you not only have to pay your rent, you have to pay, basically a car payment, if not, that is more than some people’s car payments.”
Impact on mortgage and rent payments
For mortgages backed by the federal government, the CARES Act provided homeowners hit by Covid-19 hardships the ability to request 180 days of mortgage forbearance. Many landlords have made accommodations by accepting lower payments and deferred payments. A few have given rent forgiveness and many states have had eviction freezes.
Eventually, regardless of whether the individual is employed or unemployed, the payments will have to be made. Short-term realities take priority over long-term fears. The car payment comes before health insurance, and people just pray that they will stay healthy in the long-term.
Not having health insurance can intensify the fear of health care. Health care, unfortunately, often loses its association with the benevolent arm of physicians working tirelessly to keep us well. Instead it becomes associated with the potential bills that will put the entire future of families into jeopardy.
Even before Covid-19, Americans worried about finances and risked their health to save money. In 2018, a survey by Westhealth Institute found that 40% of the respondents skipped a recommended medical test and 32% did not fill or took less than the approved dosage in the 12 months prior due to a fear of the cost. Post-Covid-19, this concern about affordability has undoubtedly multiplied.
Ultimately, the increase in the uninsured and the underinsured is setting the stage for a second wave of suffering as people decide to hold off medical tests and treatment for the future. Not undergoing an expensive medical test that comes back negative will mean money saved. However, skipping medical tests that would come back positive could result in treatment coming too slowly and subsequently preventing a life-saving treatment.
Fear of healthcare bills
Already stories have come in of Covid-19 patients suffering and dying at home rather than going to hospitals under the fear of surprise bills. But Covid-19 is only one of many ailments affecting Americans, and when people defer treatment, their lives can be at risk. Many types of cancer have a better prognosis when detected earlier. Additionally, if not attended to, some infections can threaten lives. With the 2018 survey already noting that 40% skip recommended medical tests, and now, with the pandemic happening and a rising number of uninsured Americans, that percentage will likely increase to a disturbing majority of Americans skipping a recommended medical test this year.
Additionally, unemployment and being uninsured adversely affects health as despair leads to health risks. Researchers at Medical News Today estimated that becoming unemployed increases the rate of heart attacks by 35%. Add to this risk the stress of not having secure health care. Then add the fear of being extensively charged for having a heart attack and one could imagine that a nightmare scenario is playing out.
As we move into the autumn, Covid-19 will continue its rampage. However, this health crisis is not going to disappear with the end of the Covid-19 pandemic. America can expect a second wave of suffering.
Read more on how cutting taxes over pandemic relief is bad for the economy or the next generation of healthcare – telehealth.