UAlbany Study Explores Impact of Health Insurance Loss During COVID-19

Medicare For All Rally signs Los Angeles 2017
A Medicare For All rally in Los Angeles in 2017. (Photo by Molly Adams, used by permission)

ALBANY, N.Y. (Nov. 2, 2021) — As the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged the U.S. economy in 2020 it forced millions to seek unemployment insurance. But the rising unemployment rate also had another unintended consequence. It caused millions to lose their employer-sponsored health insurance coverage (the United States remains the only high-income country that relies on employer-sponsored health coverage to insure a majority of its population).

As the nation’s workers confronted this loss of employer-sponsored health insurance, researchers from UAlbany’s Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy and Harvard University set out to examine how this event impacted their support for universal health coverage policies.

Publishing recently in the Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law, the team found that health insurance loss was a strong driver of support for Medicare for All (M4A) policies, but that direct experience of insurance loss was associated with even greater support for the Affordable Care Act (ACA) than for M4A.

Ashley Fox Rockefeller College
Associate Professor of Public Administration and Policy Ashley M. Fox

The article, “Health Insurance Loss during COVID-19 Increases Support for Universal Health Coverage,” was led by Associate Professor of Public Policy Ashley Fox, and includes co-authors Yongjin Choi, a PhD candidate in public administration, Kevin Croke, an assistant professor of global health at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and Heather Lanthorn, an associate director of IDnsight and graduate of the T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The project was conducted through a survey of 1,211 Americans in June 2020.

The researchers presented a random sample of respondents with a news article of an individual that had lost his health insurance coverage due to no-fault job loss and another random sample received no news article.

They found that priming respondents with the news article induced “modest change in support for M4A, especially among individuals without well-formed preferences.” However, the researchers also found that “…directly experiencing recent health insurance loss is strongly associated with greater M4A support.”

Moreover, “When expansion of the ACA was added as a response option, there was still support for Medicare for All, but direct experience of insurance loss was associated with greater support for the ACA than for M4A,” said Fox.

The researchers argue that the large-scale loss of employer-based insurance during COVID-19 offers the potential for new structural coalitions supportive of universal coverage.