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What a global health crisis does to your insurance costs

Posted at 11:54 AM, Oct 15, 2020

CINCINNATI, Ohio - What will health insurance costs look like in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic?

It’s too early to say for sure, said Miami University professor and economist Melissa Thomasson, except that rates almost definitely won’t go down.

“There is so much uncertainty right now that insurance companies are probably really reluctant to cut premiums” for the upcoming year, she said Wednesday.

They could be more expensive next year to cover lost profit during the pandemic, she said; they could also remain the same. Although millions of Americans lost their jobs in 2020, not all of them had employer-sponsored insurance or represented a hit for their insurance company.

“Jobs in retail, service industries, hospitality and leisure, those people typically don't have health insurance coverage,” Thomasson said. “So I think the losses in health coverage were less than we initially feared."

Tommie Lewis, a Cincinnati business owner, said his family avoided the doctor’s office for much of the year due to COVID-19 transmission concerns. People across the country have done exactly the same thing; on June 9, the CEOs of the Cleveland Clinic and Mayo Clinic published an opinion piece pleading with readers to stop delaying their medical care over virus fears.

The insurance industry could benefit in 2021 from people like Lewis, who had put off their visits, finally returning, Thomasson said. Likewise, it could experience a rebound through new telehealth options — which the Kaiser Family Foundation predicts will be more prevalent — and previously unemployed people going back to work.

But Lewis, who is self-insured through his business, said he worries that premiums will rise for families across the country.

“I really believe there will be an increase in premiums, and families of four, five, six, are going to have to make real serious decisions on food, shelter, transportation, or health care,” he said.

This story was first published by Courtney Francisco at WCPO in Cincinnati, Ohio.