Potential Eligibility for Medicaid, CHIP, and Marketplace Subsidies Among Workers Losing Jobs in Industries Vulnerable to High Levels of COVID-19-Related Unemployment

A woman hangs a closed sign on a shop window.

Most workers in hard-hit industries would be eligible for health insurance assistance if unemployed, but gaps remain.

The Issue

As the novel coronavirus spreads across the country, stay-at-home orders proliferate, and many businesses shutter, the number of unemployed people is soaring. Higher unemployment will likely be widespread but will be felt acutely in specific industries. Researcher look at the effect of COVID-19 on vulnerable industries especially prone to pandemic-related layoffs, including retail, restaurant, hotel, entertainment, dry cleaning, home health and day care, and transportation services, among others.

Key Findings

Many newly unemployed people may be unaware that they may qualify for public insurance or subsidies for marketplace coverage to keep themselves and their families covered, which is especially critical during the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • More than 14 million of these vulnerable workers and family members would be eligible for Medicaid or Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplace insurance subsidies, even if they receive unemployment compensation.

  • About 60 percent of the 23.8 million workers in the most vulnerable industries and their family members not enrolled in public insurance coverage or employer coverage through a less vulnerable industry prior to the COVID-19 crisis would be eligible for health insurance financial assistance if they lose their jobs.

  • Vulnerable workers and their family members are much more likely to be eligible for Medicaid or CHIP in expansion states (37 percent versus 14 percent in nonexpansion states if they receive unemployment compensation) due to expanded eligibility. The differences are even more pronounced if the workers do not receive unemployment compensation (57 percent versus 20 percent).


Researchers offer several policy solutions to increase the number of the newly-eligible unemployed who will have insurance through the crisis, including a special open-enrollment period for ACA marketplace plans nationwide, increased federal funds for Medicaid support, expanded Medicaid eligibility in the remaining 15 nonexpansion states, and more subsidization of marketplace coverage.

About the Urban Institute

The nonprofit Urban Institute is dedicated to elevating the debate on social and economic policy. For nearly five decades, Urban scholars have conducted research and offered evidence-based solutions that improve lives and strengthen communities across a rapidly urbanizing world. Their objective research helps expand opportunities for all, reduce hardship among the most vulnerable, and strengthen the effectiveness of the public sector. Visit the Urban Institute’s Health Policy Center for more information specific to its staff and its recent research.