More Fallout from the COVID Shutdown

by James A. Bacon

A least 5.4 million Americans lost their medical insurance when they lost their jobs to the COVID-19 epidemic between February and May, says Attorney General Mark R. Herring in a press release issued today. In Virginia, he adds, it is estimated that 14% of adults lack health insurance.

Nine hundred thousand Virginians have filed for unemployment benefits, Herring notes. “Virginia continues to see unprecedented COVID-related job loss, which means that hundreds of thousands of Virginians have also lost their job-related health insurance.”

In citing those numbers, Herring urges Virginians to evaluate their health insurance options on HealthCare.Gov, the subsidized medical insurance marketplace created by the Affordable Care Act (better known as Obamacare). The AG also also is asking federal administrators of the program to create a special enrollment period to allow access to the insurance during the COVID-19 epidemic.

I find the statistics of interest, though not for the same reasons Herring does. They measure a huge unintended consequence of the COVID shutdowns in Virginia and other states: When people lose their jobs, many lose their health insurance as well. Many Virginians do not qualify for the state’s expanded Medicaid program, or may conclude that Obamacare coverage is too pricey to be worthwhile.

To be sure, Virginia is not the only state in the U.S. to have a governor willing to shut down large swaths of the economy for the purpose of combating the coronavirus. Governor Ralph Northam is working on the same set of blinkered assumptions shared by most governors and the national media. the most invidious of which is that the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths are the only metrics worth measuring. But as a VCU study has found, the economic shutdown created extensive spillover effects that have contributed roughly 30,000 “excess” deaths (above normal levels) nationally over and above those caused by the virus itself.

One of the mechanisms of those excess deaths, it can be plausibly argued, is the loss of jobs, the attendant loss of health insurance, and the consequent decision by hundreds of thousands of people afflicted with other maladies to defer or avoid entirely seeking medical care.

Human societies are highly complex systems. We need to be alert to unintended consequences and spillover effects, and when we identify them, we need to act. Give Herring credit for this: He has identified one potent unintended consequence, the loss of private medical insurance. Unfortunately, his proposed remedy is not to reconsider the actions that put people out of work, but to urge people to avail themselves of more government programs.

That’ll work fine until the U.S. encounters the ultimate unintended consequence: the government runs out of money.

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17 responses to “More Fallout from the COVID Shutdown

  1. “He (Herring) has identified one potent unintended consequence, the loss of private medical insurance. Unfortunately, his proposed remedy is not to reconsider the actions that put people out of work, but to urge people to avail themselves of more government programs.”

    Which was the leftist government regime’s intent all along, complete government control of everything and everybody, all run as kleptocracy for the benefit of those running it.

  2. The idea of an fresh enrollment period is worth considering. Perhaps he is getting himself at the head of a parade already formed on that, let’s see. But I agree, it is telling that the suggestion is to get folks on some government-run replacement rather than pushing to get folks back to work. If getting people back to work were the goal, you’d see efforts to protect employers from liability. The Northam Administration instead trumpets efforts to impose more liability and burdens on employers, with very little evidence that typical* workplaces are the epicenter of infection. (*With the exception of health care and congregate living settings.)

  3. “But I agree, it is telling that the suggestion is to get folks on some government-run replacement rather than pushing to get folks back to work.”


    You see, workers earning a good living from private enterprise in Virginia are independent and free people who know how to exercise their free agency and how to take care of themselves, free and independent of Virginia’s government. This is precisely what today’s leftist regime in Richmond fears most of all, so it’s trying to greatly limit and ultimately extinguish the freedom of all Virginia citizens, vesting it in the regime’s rulers instead.

  4. All other developed countries have universal healthcare, so they don’t have these issues – their health insurance stays intact even if they become unemployed – and as a result – they fare much better than our folks.

    Even folks who work in the service sector – have health insurance. Even if they switch jobs or have more than one job – they still have health insurance.

    Our folks don’t and so we talk about the unintended consequences of shutting down the economy as if not shutting it down and having COVID19 run amok is the choice. It completely evades the real issue which is why we are alone among the developed countries that do this.

    • Eric the Half a Troll

      Exactly, I was struck by how this piece captured the very real negative consequences of relying on an employment-based healthcare insurance system.

  5. If you lose your job don’t you qualify for COBRA? If you are too poor to afford the costs of COBRA health coverage don’t you qualify for Medicaid?

    • It depends AND you do have to apply – and you know how that is working these days for unemployment and food stamps…

      Cobra is a joke for most folks… and it’s not the kind of health insurance a lot of people have with service sector jobs to start with but even with full strength employer-provided – vew people can afford COBRA.

      Beyond that – Obamacare actually does cost money- AND it is means-tested so that if you are unemployed – you don’t qualify at all…

      There is an even bigger problem and that is – do you have a regular doctor who has your medical history and is screening you for diseases and checking your blood labs for things like diabetes?

      Or are you someone who has not so good health insurance and doesn’t go to the doctor unless you have a problem such that you may well have underlying conditions and not even know it nor are getting treated.

      Those of us who have permanent health insurance just are clueless about those who do not… we think that “somehow” it works out for them. It does not… it’s a lot like racism… if it’s not directly in our face – it’s an “oh well”.

      • Listened to an interesting talk the other day with a speaker from Sweden, making that case that it is now a more free-market, free trade economy than the U.S. It’s reputation as a bastion of socialism is totally off base, after a sharp turn back to the center in the 1990s. It backed off quite a bit of that agenda, but does retain 1) a nationalized healthcare system and 2) tuition-free college for those who qualify. Their retirement program now is defined contribution, not defined benefit.

        You won’t get any argument from me that the current healthcare system in this country is a mess, but I’d want any discussion about change to look broadly at alternatives. Larry, within those systems elsewhere there is great variation in quality, access and often there is still some cost – it often is far from “free.” Sometimes the providers are government employees, but often they remain private.

        • re: ” Larry, that within those systems elsewhere there is great variation is quality, access and often there is still some cost – it often is far from “free.” ”

          never “free”. Everyone pays for it. It’s basic healthcare – if you want more or better you can buy “up”.

          But it keeps the majority of folks healthy and it’s portable – no matter your job. Yep, there are wait times for some things – but the claim that people die waiting is bogus -most of the other developed countries have longer life expectancies than us:

          So we argue that the US is not like those other countries. We have a whole bunch of folks with unhealthy lifestyles and it happens to be the same group that don’t have insurance…!!~

          • In a lot of cases those average life expectancy rankings are pulled down by infant mortality. If you live past the age of, say, 2, you can probably expect to live longer than what that chart says.

          • So is this also a consequence of people in the US not having health insurance or something else?

          • A datapoint:

            “Medicaid paid for 43 percent of all births in 2018, while private coverage paid for just under half (49.1 percent). Fewer births were uninsured (4.1 percent) or paid by another payer (3.8 percent).Jan 1, 2020”

          • And Medicaid provides health insurance for kids of parents who do not have health insurance.

            But in states that did not expand Medicaid – infant mortality is higher:


            In Virginia and other states – basic Medicaid was not available to able bodies adults – so things like Diabetes and insulin were not covered until Medicaid expansion.

        • That’s because most don’t understand that the Nordic Model isn’t socialism.

  6. The government will NEVER run out of money. Money printer go BRRRRR.

  7. Why the US has lower life expectancy than other countries

    Major reasons

    One of the reasons why life expectancy in the United States is lower than in other industrialized nations is because of an under-performing healthcare system, according to a report by the National Research Council. Drops in life expectancy are especially pronounced in US adults aged 50 years and older.

    Although life expectancy is lower in the United States compared with other developed countries, the US excels in cancer screening, 5-year cancer survival, heart attack/stroke survival, and prescription treatment of hypertension and hypercholesterolemia. Nevertheless, these measures reflect outcomes after a disease develops and not through prevention, which may still be poor in the United States.

    “Evidence that the major diseases are effectively diagnosed and treated in the US does not mean that there may not be great inefficiencies in the US health care system,” wrote the authors. “A list of prominent charges include fragmentation, duplication, inaccessibility of records, the practice of defensive medicine, misalignment of physician and patient incentives, limitations of access for a large fraction of the population, and excessively fast adoption of unproven technologies.”

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