Making Sense of Competing Estimates: The COVID-19 Recession's Effects on Health Insurance Coverage

Brief

Making Sense of Competing Estimates: The COVID-19 Recession's Effects on Health Insurance Coverage

August 28, 2020

Abstract

We compare four studies that project the effects of the COVID-19 recession on employment-based health insurance coverage and the number of uninsured people in 2020. Several estimates have been published in recent months, but they vary widely and are difficult to reconcile. Most workers in the United States get health insurance coverage through their jobs, so policymakers are looking for answers to two main questions: How many workers losing their jobs are also losing their health insurance? And how many workers losing their employer-based coverage will become uninsured?

The four studies each attempt to quantify the number of individuals losing employment-based health insurance due to COVID-19-related job loss, with figures ranging from around 5 million up to 30 million. Estimates of the increase in the number of uninsured people range from about 3 million to more than 8 million.  Recent evidence from small household surveys is more consistent with the lower estimates or delayed impacts. Definitive data on changes in coverage are not yet available, so projections can supply useful information for policymakers. The value of these competing estimates lies in their transparent use of available data and careful presentation of final results in the context of considerable uncertainty about when and how insurance coverage will change as a result of the COVID-19 recession.

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