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Fact check: Do 50 million people really lose health coverage each year because of their jobs?

Emmarie Huetteman, Kaiser Health News on

Published in Health & Fitness

The moderators kicked off the third Democratic debate Thursday with the topic of health care, teeing up another round of the ongoing "Medicare for All" debate.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders caught our attention by claiming that 50 million people lose their private insurance every year due to employment changes.

"George, you talked about, was it 150 million people on private insurance? 50 million of those people lose their private insurance every year when they quit their jobs or they go unemployed or their employer changes their insurance policy," Sanders said.

That sounds like a huge number even before he qualified it by attributing it to job loss and other work-related occasions for an insurance lapse.

We reached out to the Sanders' campaign to discover the basis for this claim and were pointed to an analysis by the People's Policy Project, a social Democratic-leaning think tank. That analysis hinges on a question asked as part of a national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey in 2014, plus a little basic multiplication.

The survey asked adults between ages 18 and 64, in 43 states: "In the past 12 months was there any time when you did not have any health insurance or coverage?" In response, 12.9% said they had experienced a gap in coverage, while 11.5% said they had been uninsured for more than 12 months.

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The think tank analysis then combined those percentages and multiplied them by current population estimates, coming up with "just under 50 million people" who were uninsured for at least part of the year. (It went on to endorse Medicare for All.)

This claim becomes perplexing when you consider the total number of uninsured people in recent years. In 2013, overall there were more than 44 million uninsured, Americans under age 65. With the initial implementation of the Affordable Care Act, that number steadily declined until last year when it ticked up slightly to 27.5 million.

A Sanders spokeswoman also cited another People's Policy Project blog post analyzing the number of people who leave their jobs (66.1 million in 2018, it said) and government data on the number of jobs the average worker has had by age 50 (11.9).

The campaign specifically pointed to this sentence in the blog post: "This labor turnover data leaves little doubt that people with employer-sponsored insurance are losing that insurance constantly, as are their spouses and kids."

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