Health Reform WK-EDGE Significant number of older adults lost employer-sponsored coverage due to pandemic
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Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Significant number of older adults lost employer-sponsored coverage due to pandemic

By Lauren Bikoff, MLS

A study from AARP details the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on employer-sponsored coverage.

Estimates show that a significant number of older workers likely lost employer-sponsored health insurance during the first several months of the pandemic, since the majority of older adults ages 50 to 64 rely on coverage through their employer as their source of health insurance, according to recent research from AARP. The study, Estimating Impacts of Pandemic-Related Job Loss on Health Insurance Coverage among Adults Ages 50 to 64 During the First Year of COVID-19found that some older adults losing employer coverage became newly uninsured, while others enrolled in nongroup coverage or Medicaid.

Unemployment among adults ages 50 to 64 jumped significantly in the initial phase of the pandemic, from 2.5 percent in February 2020 to a high of 12.5 percent in April 2020. The unemployment rate among adults ages 50 to 64 has been gradually improving after its peak in April 2020. However, older adult unemployment remained at 4.8 percent as of March 2021, a rate still nearly double prepandemic levels, AARP noted.

Health insurance. The majority of adults ages 50 to 64 have health coverage through their employer. This group relies disproportionately on employer-sponsored insurance (ESI) compared to younger age groups, with an estimated 61 percent (or 38 million) enrolled in ESI in January 2020, compared to 57 percent (or 82 million) among adults 18 to 49. Projections, however, suggest many older adults who have lost ESI during the pandemic are regaining it slowly.

The study estimates that between February and August 2020, about 800,000 adults ages 50 to 64 lost ESI, accounting for nearly 40 percent of all adults who lost ESI during that period. By January 2021, as many as 840,000 fewer older adults were estimated to be enrolled in ESI as a result of the pandemic.

As the economy slowly recovers, data indicate that enrollment in ESI will also slowly recover. However, even by the end of 2022, enrollment of 50- to 64-year-olds will not fully reach pre-COVID numbers. Based on trends from the last major recession (2007–14), it is likely that some people in this age group will not return to ESI even once the economy improves. The study estimates that by December 2022, as many as 450,000 fewer older adults could be enrolled in ESI than were enrolled pre-COVID.

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