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Survey: 9 Million Adults Joined Ranks of Uninsured Due to Job Loss in 2010

An estimated nine million working-age adults—57% of people who had health insurance through a job that was lost—became uninsured in the last two years, according to the Commonwealth Fund 2010 Biennial Health Insurance Survey.

The survey paints a bleak picture for the 43 million adults under age 65 who reported that they or their spouse lost a job in the past two years, finding that job losses are often compounded by the loss of health insurance, leaving families vulnerable to catastrophic financial losses and bankruptcy in the event of a serious illness or accident.

According to the report, “Help on the Horizon: How the Recession Has Left Millions of Workers Without Health Insurance, and How Health Reform Will Bring Relief,” the unemployed have great difficulty finding affordable health care. Only 25% of people who lost employer health insurance were able to find another source of health insurance coverage, and only 14% continued their job-based coverage through COBRA.

In addition, purchasing individual coverage was not a viable option for most people. Seventy-one percent of adults who tried to buy individual coverage in the past three years, or 19 million people, either found it difficult or impossible to find a plan that fit their needs; found it difficult or impossible to find a plan they could afford; or were turned down or charged a higher price for coverage because of a pre-existing condition.

“This survey tells a story of millions of Americans who lost their jobs during the recession, lost their health benefits too, and had essentially no place to turn for affordable health care coverage—putting their health and financial security at risk,” Commonwealth Fund President Karen Davis said in a statement.

“The silver lining is that the Affordable Care Act has already begun to bring relief to families. Once the new law is fully implemented, we can be confident that no future recession will have the power to strip so many Americans of their health security.”

According to the survey, an estimated 52 million American adults were uninsured at some point during 2010, up from 38 million in 2001. Adults in families with low and moderate incomes were the most likely to be uninsured. Fifty-four percent of lower-income adults (under $22,050 for a family of four) and 41% of moderate-income adults ($22,050 to $44,100 for a family of four) were uninsured for some time during the year, compared with 13% of adults with higher incomes.

Health care costs are increasingly preventing people from getting the health care they need, the survey finds. Seventy-five million adults did not get needed health care in 2010, skipping doctor visits, prescriptions, specialist care, and recommended tests or treatments because of costs. This is a 60% increase from 2001, when 47 million people reported skipping needed care because of costs.

Uninsured adults were the most likely to forego care due to costs, with 66% reporting they did so. However, many insured adults were also less insulated from high health care costs—31% of adults who were insured all year went without the health care they needed because of costs, up from 21% in 2001.
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