The Color of Money / Home & Consumer

Color of Money: The Need for a Health Plan Backup

WASHINGTON -- We know that most people get their health insurance coverage through their jobs or through a family member's employer. But a report just released by the nonpartisan Employee Benefit Research Institute found that the percentage of the population with employment-based health benefits has been declining, most recently due to the recession.

Paul Fronstin, author of the report and director of the institute's Health Research and Education Program, said his research found that fewer employers are offering health coverage, fewer workers are eligible for it, and fewer employees are taking advantage of the benefit because it's too costly.

"What we are seeing is this steady and slow erosion in employment-based coverage," Fronstin said. "We've been seeing changes for the better part of a decade."

Consider these findings:

-- Between 1997 and 2010, the percentage of workers offered health insurance by their employers decreased from 70.1 percent to 67.5 percent, and the percentage of workers covered by those plans decreased from 60.3 percent to 56.5 percent.

-- Many people aren't qualifying for health coverage because they work part time. Two-thirds of workers not eligible for their employers' health plans reported that they worked part time in 2010, up from one-half of workers in 1997.

-- Between 1997 and 2010, the percentage of workers who declined coverage because they said it was too expensive increased from 23.2 percent to 29.1 percent.

And workers whose employers do not offer health benefits are more likely to go without any insurance. In 2010, half of all workers whose employer did not offer health benefits were uninsured, up from 44.1 percent in 1997.

"While it is possible that these trends will change with a rebound in employment rates, even when the unemployment rate fell between 2002 and 2005, it did not appear to have an impact on employer sponsorship of health plans," Fronstin wrote.

He said that estimates presented in his report could serve as a baseline to measure the future impact of the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act on employment-based health benefits. Given all the misinformation and criticism about the health care law, we certainly need a nonpartisan baseline.

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Copyright 2012 Washington Post Writers Group



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