Insurance Companies Could Hike Premiums by 40 Percent Amid Pandemic

A new analysis warning that U.S. health insurance companies could hike already exorbitant premiums by 40 percent or more next year amid the coronavirus pandemic was received by Medicare for All advocates as further confirmation that America’s healthcare system — driven first and foremost by the profit motive — is ill-equipped to provide necessary care for all, particularly in a time of nationwide crisis.

The research conducted by Covered California, the state insurance marketplace created under the Affordable Care Act, found (pdf) that “if carriers must recoup 2020 costs, price for the same level of costs next year, and protect their solvency, 2021 premium increases to individuals and employers from COVID-19 alone could range from 4 percent to more than 40 percent.”

The health and economic impacts of the coronavirus outbreak are “potentially staggering,” the analysis states, and could result in even more “consumers and employers no longer being able to afford coverage, leading to employer groups dropping coverage or individuals deciding to go uninsured.”

More than 80 million people in the U.S. are currently uninsured or underinsured, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, and millions more are losing their employer-provided insurance as the jobless rate spikes due to the coronavirus crisis.

“The impact of COVID-19 will be significant, and… absent federal action, consumers, employers, and our entire healthcare system may be facing unforeseen costs that could exceed $251 billion,” Peter V. Lee, executive director of Covered California said in a statement. “Consumers will feel these costs through higher out-of-pocket expenses and premiums, as well as the potential of employers dropping coverage or shifting more costs to employees.”

“These increased costs could mean that many of the 170 million Americans in the commercial market may lose their coverage and go without needed care as we battle a global health crisis,” Lee added. “These are not ‘insurer’ costs — these are costs directly borne by individual Americans.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), whose Medicare for All proposal would virtually eliminate private insurance in the U.S., tweeted in response to the Covered California study that “America’s for-profit insurance industry is not compatible with healthcare as a human right.”

“Now is not the time for greed,” said Sanders, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate. “Now is the time for Medicare for All.”

The new research comes as the coronavirus crisis continues to expose systemic flaws in America’s fragmented and dysfunctional healthcare system. The Guardian reported last Thursday that as the virus has spread rapidly across the U.S., “private health insurance companies have lagged behind: making incremental changes to plans even as health providers seek to change course.”

“They’re doing healthcare to make money, not to take care of people,” Dr. Judd Hollander, emergency medicine physician and associate dean at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, told The Guardian.

Last week, a 17-year-old boy in Los Angeles County died from complications believed to have been caused by COVID-19 after he was denied treatment at an urgent care center. The reason: he was uninsured.

“He didn’t have insurance, so they did not treat him,” said R. Rex Parris, the mayor of Lancaster, California.