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If you worry about what Congress could do in its health care legislation, you should be terrified by the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill, which could cost millions of Americans their health insurance.

Nearly 15 million Americans are now looking for work, bringing the official unemployment rate to 9.7% – the highest in 26 years. If the Senate passes Waxman-Markey, that rate will go much higher.

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And employment and access to health insurance are inextricably linked.

There’s no debating a cap-and-trade system would harm the economy. The only question is how costly it would be.

The CBO low-balled the costs of the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill passed by the House in June, saying it would cost just $175 per household per year. This is the “less than the price of a postage stamp per day” figure we keep hearing.

But to arrive at this number, the CBO had to ignore employment and income losses from cap-and-trade – costs estimated to be thousands of dollars per household per year. After figuring that in, yes, cap-and-trade would cost less than a postage stamp per day, but only if you’re buying a $17.50 Express Mail stamp.

The Heritage Foundation provides a more comprehensive estimate, projecting a family of four would pay an additional $4,609 per year by 2035. Annual job losses would average 1.15 million between 2012 and 2030, with job losses rising to nearly 2.5 million in 2035.

Higher unemployment rates mean more uninsured. In 2007, employers provided health insurance for 63 percent of Americans under age 65 and paid for nearly 90 percent of all private health insurance policies. Although the newly unemployed may extend their health benefits through COBRA, many can’t afford to. According to Families USA, family health insurance premiums under COBRA equal, on average, 84 percent of unemployment benefits received.

The Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured estimates that for every percentage point increase of unemployment (in present terms, the loss of about 1.54 million jobs), the number of Americans without health insurance rises by 1.1 million.

For illustrative purposes, using Heritage’s job loss projections and the Kaiser figures, this could mean over 820,000 people losing their health insurance annually, on average, between 2012 and 2030, with about 1.8 million losing coverage in 2035 alone.

But that’s not the half of it.

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David A. Ridenour

David A. Ridenour is vice president of The National Center for Public Policy Research, a position he has held since 1986.

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