Most employers didn't pay furloughed workers' health premiums
When the coronavirus forced businesses to tell their employees not to work, most kept paying at least some of those workers’ wages — but not their health insurance premiums.
Why it matters: Millions of people have lost their income and their health care coverage at the same time during this pandemic, which could stick them with unaffordable medical bills or cause them to put off care they need.
The big picture: Nationwide, 52% of businesses told employees not to work at some point this year because of the pandemic, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
- In the spring, for example, many restaurants and retail stores didn’t fire or lay off their workers, but employees were simply unable to go to work because those businesses were closed or operating with only a skeletal staff.
By the numbers: Of the companies that told some employees not to work, most — 51% — kept paying at least some of those workers.
- But only 42% of those businesses kept paying those workers’ health insurance premiums, according to the BLS data.
- The industries hit hardest by the economic downturn — the ones where workers were most likely to have their hours cut or eliminated — were the least likely to keep paying health care costs.
- In the finance and insurance industries, 62% of companies kept paying the insurance premiums of workers who were kept off the job. But in the hospitality and food service industries, it was just 23%.
Between the lines: The average employer-based health care plan in the U.S. costs about $7,000 per year for an individual and $20,000 for a family. Employers, not workers, pay the bulk of those premiums.
- That’s a big, fixed expense that simply may not be sustainable for many employers in this economy — even ones that could afford to keep some of their workers’ wages flowing.
What’s next: Medicaid will pick up many of the poorest newly uninsured Americans, and plans sold through the Affordable Care Act will be an option for others.
- But workers who fall through the cracks of that patchwork system could be stuck with wildly unaffordable medical bills if they’re managing a chronic illness or get sick before they find a new job.
The bottom line: Tying insurance coverage to employment leaves people in a lurch whenever the economy turns south.