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The U.S. male: No job, no paycheck, no health insurance

Men lost insurance during the Great Recession, even when they held onto a job, say researchers in a new working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Should the 2010 Affordable Care Act survive legal challenges, the law's expanded insurance subsidies could weaken the link between the economy and coverage, the researchers say. Nonetheless, the health reform law may also pose new questions for lawmakers should downturns increase spending for insurance subsidies.

About nine times as many adults lost insurance during the Great Recession as did during the shorter and milder recession of 2001, according to an estimate by John Cawley of Cornell University, Kosali Simon of Indiana University and Asako Moriya of Carnegie Mellon University, who analyzed household survey data from January 2004 through November 2010.

The researchers estimate that 9.3 million adults lost coverage. Most were men. When a state unemployment rate increases by one percentage point, the likelihood that men will be insured drops by 1.67 percentage points, or 2.12%, the research shows.

The results found no correlation between the unemployment rate and coverage among women, a result that I found puzzling. So did Cawley, a professor of policy analysis and management at Cornell's economics department, who said in an interview that the analysis could not explain the reasons behind the different results for men and women. But he did suggest one reason in a follow up e-mail:

“A question that arises from our findings is: Why is the health insurance coverage of women not as sensitive to the macroeconomy as that of men?” Cawley wrote. “One possibility is that, in general, the Great Recession hit men harder than women.

“For example, the gender-specific unemployment rate rose much more rapidly for men than women during that time. For this reason, our findings are part of a general pattern that men have been affected more than women by recent macroeconomic fluctuations.”

Researchers also looked at the correlation between unemployment rates and reasons survey respondents gave for being uninsured. As unemployment climbs, so does the probability that cost is the culprit for men and women.

One final note: The study led me to an excellent source to compare the most recent recession and recovery with prior downturns, from the Federal Reserve Bank in my hometown.

You can follow Melanie Evans on Twitter: @MHmevans.

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