NU Online News Service, Aug. 29, 11:03 a.m. — Washington

Despite the economic boom between 1997 and 2001, the proportion of working Americans covered by employer-sponsored health insurance remained flat, according to a new study.

The study, by the Center for Studying Health System Change, Washington, found that while there was a slight decline in the proportion of uninsured Americans from working families during the 1997-2001 period, this was due to growing public health insurance enrollment rather than expansion of the employer-based system.

Overall, the study says, more than one in 10 people from working families, some 22 million Americans, remained uninsured in 2001.

“These findings tell us that relying on economic growth alone to reduce the number of uninsured won’t work,” says Paul Ginsburg, president of the health system change center.

“Short of a major public investment — either through subsidies to purchase private health insurance or public coverage expansions — significantly reducing the number of uninsured Americans in working families isn’t likely,” he says.

The Washington Business Group on Health, Washington, an employer group, says the report should be a wake-up call about the dangers of poorly designed regulations.

“Policymakers have to resist the temptation to mandate ever richer benefits that will be available to fewer and fewer people,” says Helen Darling, the group’s president.

Don Young, president of the Health Insurance Association of America, says lawmakers should create new incentives for purchasers of private health coverage.

“Tax credits to encourage employers to offer and individuals to obtain private health insurance is one way in which the private and public sectors can work together to close the remaining gaps in health coverage,” Young says.

Families USA, Washington, a consumer group that has emphasized the importance of government action, says any viable solution must build on both the employer-based system and successful public programs.