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EBRI: Health Benefits Picture Changes

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The percentage of U.S. workers with employer-sponsored health coverage has dropped since the Great Recession began in 2007.

Analysts have debated whether group coverage rates dropped because employers were offering health benefits to fewer workers or if fewer workers were taking up the benefits offered.

Paul Fronstin of the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI), Washington,  has looked at government survey data and concluded the most obvious change has been an increase in the unemployment rate.

The uninsured workers themselves say the cost of coverage is the most serious obstacle to having coverage, Fronstin says.

In the past, EBRI has published reports talking about group health concerns such as coverage for part-time workers,  long-term care planning and dependent coverage.

Fronstin looked at month-to-month changes in coverage trends recorded from 1995 to 2011, when the effects of the Great Recession were clearly affecting coverage rates.

As the recession rolled in, the percentage of workers with employment-based coverage in their own name fell to 55.9%, from 60.4%, then zigzagged down to 55.8% in April 2011, Fronstin says.

The percentage of uninsured workers who reported that they were not offered employment-based health benefits fell to 23% in mid-2011, from about 40% from the mid-1990s through 2003, while the percentage who blamed the cost of coverage for being uninsured increase to about 90% in mid-2011, from about 70% in 1995, Fronstin says.

Fronstin notes that the federal government surveys do not indicate exactly what the uninsured workers mean when they blame being uninsured on the “cost of coverage.”

“These workers may have been referring to the cost of employment-based coverage or coverage that they could purchase directly from insurers,” Fronstin says.


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