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NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Some 15 million Americans lost their health benefits along with their jobs between 2008 and 2010 as a result of the economic downturn, the majority of whom were unable to afford other alternatives to stay insured, one new survey shows.

Some 25% of the unemployed managed to stay insured by joining their spouse’s health plan and another 14% purchased coverage through the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, according to surveys by the Commonwealth Fund, a private health policy foundation. Most, however, were not so lucky: In total, 9 million workers became uninsured during this time period, or 57% of all who lost their jobs.

The primary reason for this, according to the organization, is that it proves too expensive for many Americans to pay the monthly premium for alternative health care plans without steady employment.

"Currently, for a majority of Americans, losing a job also means losing health insurance," said Commonwealth Fund vice president and report co-author Sara Collins. "To make matters worse, once you are unemployed and uninsured, it's nearly impossible to afford COBRA or buy an individual policy.

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Those who opt not to replace their health care coverage suffer a noticeable drop in their quality of life. The Commonwealth Fund surveyed more than 4,000 adults and found that nearly three quarters of those who lost their health insurance did not fill their prescriptions or chose not to get the care they needed (as seen in the graphic above) potentially putting their health at risk. Roughly the same percentage of the uninsured also admitted to struggling with medical debts, putting their financial health at risk as well.

To some extent, these issues will be helped in 2014 when the health care reform act is scheduled to take full effect, which will expand public programs and establish insurance exchanges for the uninsured.

In the short term though, the researchers argue in their report that legislators should work to reinstate subsidies for COBRA coverage that were offered during the worst of the recession to make the insurance option more affordable for those who’d recently lost their jobs.

For more ideas on how Washington could help the unemployed and employed alike, check out MainStreet’s roundup of legislation that Congress should consider this year.

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