Texans who lose employer-based health care because of coronavirus may skip doctor visits

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FILE – In this Dec. 4, 2017 file photo, a person looks over a health insurance benefit comparison chart in Georgia. The new year often starts harshly for people with high-deductible health insurance. Many of those deductibles reset Jan. 1, forcing patients to pay thousands of dollars for care before most coverage starts. (AP Photo/David Goldman, File)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Millions of Texans didn’t have health insurance before the pandemic. Now, as more people lose their jobs — and their employer-based health care — that number is expected to increase.

Texas’ uninsured rate, based on 2018 U.S. Census Bureau data, is 18%, or 5 million people.

New projections from the Kaiser Family Foundation estimate that 1.6 million Texans will lose their employer-based coverage, exceeding projections for Pennsylvania — 1.5 million — but lower than California’s expected 3.4 million without coverage.

Nationwide, almost 27 million people are expected to lose their employer-based health care.

Overall, about 47% of Texans rely on their employer for health care.

And, even in a furlough situation, that doesn’t necessarily mean employees keep their coverage.

“Alot of employers are furloughing and they’re furloughing with and without health insurance,” Chris Skisak, Executive Director of the Houston Business Coalition on Health, said. “I know that there’s a lot of concern with employers in that regard.”

Those without a job because of COVID-19 do have other options when it comes to health care, though.

Some could qualify for Medicare, stay on their employer’s plan through COBRA, get insurance through their spouse or opt to purchase health care from the Affordable Care Act marketplace.

Lisa Kirsch is senior policy director at Dell Medical School at the University of Texas at Austin. She expects an uptick in the uninsured, mainly among adults, but notes that there are education efforts to make sure people get some kind of care.

For example, Central Health in Travis County has a Medical Access Program.

Still, seeing a doctor costs money. And, those unable to get health insurance may skip the doctor unless it’s absolutely necessary.

“As the economy declines, more people can’t afford to eat healthy foods, get regular medical screenings, or see their physicians when an illness is at its earliest – and most treatable stage,” Texas Medical Association President Dr. Diana Fite said Monday.

Other than projections, experts say it’s too early to know the impact COVID-19 will have on health. That includes an updated number of uninsured people and medical conditions that may worsen as a result.

“Like everybody else, what we do know is that this is going to be an impact for the next several years,” Skisak said.

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