Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The economic disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic could help create a much stronger push to let some older Americans buy into Medicare.

By the numbers: 2.4 million adults between the ages of 55 and 64 lost their jobs just since March, bringing the unemployment rate in this group to 12.5% — up from 3.4% in March.

Between the lines: Many of these people will struggle to find affordable coverage, and a slow recovery will leave many without job-based health coverage for a long time.

  • Medicaid will cover many of the newly uninsured, though not in states that haven’t expanded the program. The Affordable Care Act will help many others maintain coverage, but those plans often come with high deductibles. COBRA is available to people who lost jobs that offered insurance, but it’s often prohibitively expensive.

Millions of uninsured 55-65 year-olds could add new urgency to calls for a Medicare buy-in if Democrats control the White House and Congress in 2021.

  • Narrower options consistently poll better than more sweeping expansions of public coverage, and older adults are a politically powerful group.

Where it stands: The leading Medicare buy-in plan in Congress would allow people who are older than 50 to purchase Medicare coverage, with a subsidy for low-income enrollees similar to the subsidies in the Affordable Care Act.

  • Former Vice President Joe Biden has proposed a different twist: He would simply lower Medicare’s eligibility age from 65 to 60, without a buy-in.

Yes, but: All the old fault lines would still be at play if such an effort got serious consideration.

  • Some Democrats prefer Medicare for All. Republicans and hospitals have typically opposed all Medicare expansions.

The bottom line: The more dire the economic and health insurance circumstances of 55-64 year olds turns out to be, the greater the urgency for an early -in to Medicare is likely to become.

Go deeper

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
Aug 22, 2020 - Health

Better testing can fight more than the pandemic

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

New coronavirus diagnostics could eventually enable near-constant testing — and herald a future where even common infections no longer go undiagnosed.

Why it matters: Rapid testing could be especially important during the winter, when it will become vital to quickly distinguish between an ordinary cold or flu and a new disease like COVID-19.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
Aug 26, 2020 - Health
What Matters 2020

Axios-Ipsos poll: The racial gap on coronavirus vaccine

Data: Axios/Ipsos poll; Note: 1,084 U.S. adults were surveyed between Aug. 21-24, 2020 with a ±3.3% margin of error; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios

Black Americans are less likely than white Americans to say they plan to get a flu vaccine this year, and significantly less likely to say they'll take a first-generation coronavirus vaccine, according to numbers from the latest edition of the Axios-Ipsos Coronavirus Index.

Why it matters: Black Americans have suffered disproportionately from COVID-19, which means they also stand to benefit from a successful vaccine. But a legacy of medical mistreatment, systematic racism in health care and targeted efforts by anti-vaxxers means that a wide trust gap needs to be closed first.

Updated Oct 7, 2020 - Health

World coronavirus updates

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Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Axios Visuals

New Zealand now has active no coronavirus cases in the community after the final six people linked to the Auckland cluster recovered, the country's Health Ministry confirmed in an email Wednesday.

The big picture: The country's second outbreak won't officially be declared closed until there have been "no new cases for two incubation periods," the ministry said. Auckland will join the rest of NZ in enjoying no domestic restrictions from late Wednesday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said, declaring that NZ had "beat the virus again."