By Bethany Blankley | The Center Square
More than 5 million people lost their health insurance coverage over the past several months because of COVID-19 restrictions as costs for lifesaving medications and treatments for cancer also skyrocketed.
A new study by Families USA found that more than 5.4 million people who lost their jobs are uninsured, compared to 3.9 million who were in a similar situation during the Great Recession.
Coupled with rising health care costs, individuals with pre-existing conditions and/or serious health issues are suffering the most.
By May, within two months of stay-at-home orders, 25 percent of working-age adults became uninsured in Florida; 30 percent of the same age group in Texas also became uninsured.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, in 2018, more than 160 million people received health insurance through their employer. Since more than 40 million people filed for unemployment since March, that number has significantly changed.
For some, laid off and uninsured individuals can apply for COBRA, an insurance plan through the Affordable Care Act subsidized marketplace or through Medicaid or Medicare if their incomes qualify.
But many people fall outside of these options.
As cancer survival rates rise, so also have treatment costs. According to a 2019 survey conducted by The Mesothelioma Center at Asbestos.com, 63 percent of cancer patients and loved ones reported financial struggles after receiving a cancer diagnosis, with monthly drugs costs reaching up to $100,000 for some.
Some survey respondents reported spending the balances of three retirement accounts to cover costs, saying “we were choosing care based on what we thought we could afford, not what would help me the most.”
Forty percent of cancer patients surveyed had difficulties paying medical bills, the Mesothelioma Center found, while 12 percent lowered the dose of prescription drugs to make them last longer.
The U.S. health care system was broken and expensive before the state shutdowns began, the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) argues.
Now, “COVID-19 has exacerbated the brokenness and lack of affordability in health care,” David Balat, director of health care initiatives at the TPPF, told The Center Square.
“Texans are largely frustrated by the way we pay for and deliver health care services,” Balat said. “Costs are skyrocketing, people are paying tens of thousands of dollars before coverage kicks in, insurance companies are failing patients, and too many communities are seeing their medical providers close up shop.”
A former hospital administrator, Balat is working with state and federal legislators to put patients in charge of their own health care and lowers costs.
The Affordable Care Act was touted as a way to make health care more affordable and accessible, but it did neither, U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, R-Kerrville, said.
The ACA “crippled the ability for Americans to gain access to health care in the name of health coverage,” Roy said, with prices, spending levels and bureaucracy continuing to increase.
In January, Roy introduced the Personalized Care Act, with U.S. Reps. Mike Johnson, R-Louisiana, and Andy Biggs, R-Arizona, and U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Mike Braun, R-Indiana.
The Personalized Care Act would expand Health Savings Accounts, a mechanism to be used for direct medical care, health care sharing ministries, medications, and insurance premiums.
Roy has been working with his colleagues on the Republican Study Committee to reform the existing system so that individuals can find a doctor online or through a directory like they would find a mechanic to get an oil change for their car.
“The concept is built upon a foundation of expansive health savings with equalized tax treatment for individuals and businesses, state-administered backstops through ‘guaranteed coverage pools,’ and most importantly, the elimination of Obamacare’s Title I mandates,” Roy said.
To lower prescription drug costs, President Donald Trump announced four executive orders that will allow certain drugs to be imported from Canada and change the way discounts are negotiated by middlemen, among other things. The administration also implemented new rule changes requiring hospital transparency.