Insurance coverage a looming crisis, survey finds

August 19, 2020

Americans were underinsured even before the start of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic began.

Americans’ insurance coverage was precarious even before the beginning of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic and the economic crisis that it kicked off, according to a survey.

The survey, conducted by The Commonwealth Fund, began collecting data Jan. 14, before the pandemic broke out, and continued through June 5 and found that in the first half of 2020, 43.4 percent of adults aged 19 to 64 were inadequately insure. This was not a statistical change from when the survey was last fielded in 2018.

The uninsured rate for adults was 12.5 percent, while 9.5 percent of adults were insured but had a gap in this coverage over the past year, and 21.3 percent were underinsured. This was also statistically unchained from the 2018 survey.

People of color, small business workers, people with low incomes, and younger adults have the highest uninsured rates. The survey found that about one-third of Latino adults, small business workers, and low-income adults were either uninsured or had spent some time uninsured in the past year.

“The survey shows a persistent vulnerability among U.S. working-age adults in their ability to afford coverage and health care,” Sara Collins, lead author of the study and Commonwealth Fund vice president for health care coverage and access, says in a news release. “That vulnerability could worsen if the COVID-19 pandemic and related economic downturn continue. Coverage inadequacy is compromising people’s ability to get the care they need and leaving many with medical debt at a moment of widespread health and financial insecurity, and an uncertain future.”

The survey also found that many adults are struggling to pay their medical bills and those with inadequate coverage have a harder time of it. A quarter of respondents with adequate coverage for the full year prior to the survey have medical bill problems or debt in the past year, while half of those who reported having spent any time uninsured or underinsured reported having trouble paying medical bills and or that they were paying them off over time.

It also found that medical bills are leaving people with lingering financial problems. The surveyors found that 37 percent of respondents say they have used up all their savings to pay their bills, while 40 percent had received a lower credit rating due to their medical debt, and 26 percent reported they were unable to pay for basic necessities like food, heat or rent.