Employment-Based Health Coverage Continues Decline

September 27, 2012 (PLANSPONSOR.com) The uninsured rate for working-age Americans ticked down in 2011, but only because public program coverage grew faster than employment-based health insurance coverage declined. 

According to a new report by the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI), the percentage of the non-elderly population (younger than 65) with health insurance coverage increased to 82% in 2011 (up about half a percentage point from 2010), which is notable since increases in health insurance coverage have been recorded in only three years since 1994.    

However, different trends are taking place behind that overall result: Among the non-elderly population, employment-based coverage is trending down (58.4% had employment-based benefits in 2011, a drop from the peak of 69.3% in 2000), while public-program coverage is trending up (accounting for 22.5% of the non-elderly population, up from the low of 14.1% in 1999).    

Enrollment in Medicaid (the federal-state health care program for poor) and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP) increased to a combined 46.9 million in 2011, covering 17.6% of the non-elderly population, above the 10.2% level of 1999. Other sources of public health insurance include Medicare (which covers many disabled as well as the elderly), Tricare, CHAMPVA and Veterans Administration (VA) health insurance.

EBRI’s estimates on the uninsured are somewhat higher than those reported by the Census Bureau in its Current Population Survey (CPS): EBRI focuses on the non-elderly population because this group can receive health insurance coverage from a number of different sources, and because Medicare covers nearly all individuals age 65 and older.    

Paul Fronstin, director of the EBRI’s Health Research and Education Program, and author of the report, said the results are not surprising, given continued high unemployment and a sluggish economy—and he predicts employment-based health coverage will continue to decline when new data for this year are released in 2013.   

Full details of the report, “Sources of Health Insurance and Characteristics of the Uninsured: Analysis of the March 2012 Current Population Survey,” are published in the September 2012 EBRI Issue Brief, no. 376, online at www.ebri.org.