In 2013 -- before major PPACA rules took effect -- loss of covered lives accelerated.

The number of people covered by small employer health plans may have dropped faster in 2013 than in 2012.

Mark Farrah Associates in reporting plan enrollment numbers supporting that conclusion in a report based on health insurers’ Supplemental Health Care Exhibit filings.

Analysts at the firm found that the number of covered lives in small U.S. plans fell 5.7 percent between 2012 and 2013, to 17 million. Between 2011 and 2012, the number of lives fell just 3.2 percent. 

Shrinkage in the number of small employers offering coverage moderated. The number of small plans fell just 6.3 percent between 2012 and 2013. Between 2011 and 2012, the number of small plans fell 8.8 percent.

The average number of lives covered by each small plan jumped to 11.4 in 2012, from 10.8 in 2011. The average increased slightly, to 11.5 percent, in 2013.

Some Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) coverage requirements, such as restrictions on annual and lifetime benefits limits, were already starting to take effect in 2012 and 2013, but the new public health insurance exchange system and new individual major medical requirements came to life Jan. 1, 2014.

See also: Old health world: 2013 small-group rates

Five top carriers covered 8 million of the people with small group coverage in 2013, and three carriers accounted for 71 percent of the profits in that market segment, the analysts say.