Fewer Workers Receive Employer Benefits, Study Finds
Between 2001 and 2003, nearly nine million U.S. residents younger than age 65 lost employer-sponsored health insurance, largely because of the economic downturn and the increasing cost of providing such coverage, according to a Center for Studying Health System Change report released Tuesday, the Scripps Howard/Detroit News reports. For the report, HSC researcher Bradley Strunk and colleagues examined results from a national representative survey of 25,400 families, including about 46,000 people younger than age 65 (Bowman, Scripps Howard/Detroit News, 8/3). According to the report, the percentage of people with employer-provided insurance decreased from 67% in 2001 to 63.4% in 2003 (MacDonald, Hartford Courant, 8/3).
Most employers did not "drop health care coverage on a grand scale" during the study period, but some made health benefits "less attractive or more expensive for some low-income employees" by tightening eligibility requirements and raising employees' premium contributions, the Wall Street Journal reports. According to the report, young adults were the group most likely to decline employer-sponsored health coverage, with the percentage of them accepting such insurance dropping from 91.4% in 2001 to 89.9% in 2003 (Fuhrmans, Wall Street Journal, 8/3). Enrollment in Medicaid and SCHIP largely offset the decline in employer-sponsored coverage, with the percentage of people under age 65 enrolled in the two programs rising from 9% to 12% over the study period, the report says.
Declines in employer-provided health coverage occurred among all age groups but were "particularly pronounced" among individuals ages 19 to 39. The share of people in that age group with employer-sponsored coverage fell from 64.9% in 2001 to 59.4% in 2003, the Hartford Courant reports (Hartford Courant, 8/3). About 50% of the coverage decline for that age group was offset by growth from 5.5% to 8.3% in the share of people with public health coverage during the two-year period. The share of children younger than age 18 who had health coverage through a parent's employer dropped to 59.5% in 2003 from 63.4% in 2001; the percentage of children with public insurance coverage increased from 17.6% in 2001 to 24.1% in 2003.
The report also says that the proportion of children in families with annual incomes below 200% of the poverty level who were enrolled in public health insurance programs increased from 37.9% to 49.3% during the study period (Scripps Howard/Detroit News, 8/3). The share of workers with employer-sponsored health insurance and incomes less than 200% of the poverty level fell from 37.4% in 2001 to 32.5% in 2003, according to the report.
Latinos were the least likely to receive health benefits from their employers, according to the report. The percentage of Latinos with employer-sponsored health coverage declined from 46.7% in 2001 to 39.7% in 2003 (Hartford Courant, 8/3). Over the same period, employer-sponsored coverage among African Americans decreased by 3.1%, and it fell by 2% among whites (Wall Street Journal, 8/3).
The report, "Trends in U.S Health Insurance Coverage, 2001-2003," was released as part of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Covering Kids & Families campaign to enroll eligible uninsured children in Medicaid and SCHIP (Covering Kids & Families release, 8/2). "While the economic downturn reduced employment and accounted for much of the decline in employer coverage, the rapidly rising cost of insurance ... likely contributed to the decline as well," Strunk said in a written statement (Appleby, USA Today, 8/3).
"Health care costs -- and health insurance premiums -- continue to outpace workers' incomes by a large margin. Such rapid growth will continue to strain employers and make private insurance less and less affordable," Strunk added. HSC President Paul Ginsburg said, "Clearly, public insurance programs provided a safety net for millions of people -- especially children -- who otherwise probably would have lost coverage as the country moved through a recession and a jobless recovery" (Hartford Courant, 8/3). The study is available online. NPR's "Morning Edition" on Tuesday reported on the report. The segment includes comments from Ginsburg and Diane Rowland, executive director of the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured (Rovner, "Morning Edition," NPR, 8/3). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.
About 50% of uninsured children did not have a checkup in the past year, according to an Urban Institute study released Tuesday that examines access to care in that population, the AP/Detroit Free Press reports (Sherman, AP/Detroit Free Press, 8/3).
Researchers looked at the percentage of uninsured children whose families meet income eligibility requirements for Medicare or SCHIP and did not have a medical checkup during the past year, delayed care, did not seek care for a medical condition or did not have a primary care physician. The report also includes specific data on uninsured Hispanic and African-American children (Covering Kids & Families release, 8/2).
About 16.5 million U.S. residents buy their own insurance at an average cost of between $87 and $299 per month, according to a study released Monday by the Kaiser Family Foundation and eHealthInsurance, USA Today reports. Researchers averaged the prices of policies sold by various insurers through eHealthInsurance's Web site. According to the report, the average cost for annual premiums purchased on the site was $1,776 for individuals and $3,324 for families, with premiums varying substantially by age and region. Employers' average health plan costs are $3,383 for individuals and $9,068 for families.
Researchers attributed the differences to consumers choosing less generous benefits than employers. They also said individual health plan buyers may be younger and healthier than those who receive coverage under group plans (USA Today, 8/3). The study is available online. Note: You must have Adobe Acrobat Reader to view this document.