Context: The United States is the only high-income country that relies on employer-sponsored health coverage to insure a majority of its population. Millions of Americans lost employer-sponsored health insurance during the COVID-19–induced economic downturn. We examine public opinion toward universal health coverage policies in this context.

Methods: Through a survey of 1,211 Americans in June 2020, we examine the influence of health insurance loss on support for Medicare for All (M4A) and the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in two ways. First, we examine associations between pandemic-related health insurance loss and M4A support. Second, we experimentally prime some respondents with a vignette of a sympathetic person who lost employer-sponsored coverage during COVID-19.

Findings: We find that directly experiencing recent health insurance loss is strongly associated (10 pp, p < 0.01) with greater M4A support and with more favorable views of extending the ACA (19.3 pp, p < 0.01). Experimental exposure to the vignette increases M4A support by 6 pp (p = 0.05).

Conclusions: In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, situational framings can induce modest change in support for M4A. However, real-world health insurance losses are associated with larger differences in support for M4A and with greater support for existing safety net policies such as the ACA.

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