New estimate: 3.5 million workers likely lost their employer-sponsored health insurance in the past two weeks

3.5 million workers were at high risk of losing their employer sponsored health insurance due to COVID-19-related layoffs in the past two weeks, according to an analysis conducted by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).

The Department of Labor announced on Thursday that more than 6.6 million people filed new claims for unemployment benefits last week. Between last week and the week prior, the total number of claims reached nearly 10 million. 

Approximately half of all U.S. workers receive health insurance through coverage provided by their employer. The majority of insured non-elderly people in the United States are covered through their own employer or through the employer-sponsored plan made available to somebody in their family. Consequently, job losses result in coverage losses.  



EPI’s 3.5 million estimate is derived from an analysis of recent unemployment insurance (UI) claims by industry in Washington State. According to EPI, the UI claims provide a rough estimate of the number of workers at high risk of losing health insurance they had through their own employer due to COVID-19-related layoffs, furloughs, or hours reductions. 

Washington State was hit earliest by the crisis and was the epicenter in the United States after the virus arrived in the country. 

Beginning the process of calculating potential losses of employer-provided health insurance, economic analysts Ben Zipperer and Josh Bivens calculated national industry-specific shares of employer-provided health insurance coverage rates using data from the 2018 March Current Population Survey. The sample was limited to those who worked in the private-sector or government during the previous year.

To estimate UI initial claims by state and industry, Zipperer and Bivens used industry-specific initial claims data from Washington State for the week ending March 21.

Washington had a total of 133,478 initial UI claims for the week ending March 21. 

The researchers then extended their analysis to other states by applying this industry-specific job loss share to all other states’ industry-specific employment totals. In doing so, they could proportionally scale the losses so that each state’s total job loss equaled its statewide not-seasonally-adjusted total initial UI claims for the two weeks ending March 21 and March 28.

These estimates therefore distribute state-specific UI claims to industries in a way that accounts for labor market data from the early and intense COVID-19 shock in Washington State and accounts for each state’s industry mix prior to the epidemic,” wrote Zipperer and Bivens. 

To assist workers who have lost their employer sponsored health insurance, 11 of the 12 states who run their own ACA exchanges, as well as the District of Columbia, have allowed a special enrollment period. The state of Idaho stands alone in this category. 

The exchanges in the remaining 38 states are administered by the federal government. For these states, the Trump Administration announced yesterday that it would not reopen markets for a special enrollment period.