Minority Health Insurance Enrollment Declining

April 17, 2001 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - Industries with large minority work forces are trailing those dominated by whites in the percentage of workers enrolling in employer-paid health insurance.

The gap is widening, according to a new study supported by the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ).

The study, which was based on Census Bureau data on 197 industries between 1988 and 1997, compared health insurance enrollment across industries and over time.

“This study opens a window on how a changing American labor force has affected the distribution of health insurance,” said principal investigator Lisa A. Cubbins of Seattle’s Battelle Memorial Research Institute.

A report on the study appears in the just-published March 2001 issue of Journal of Health and Social Behavior .

Among the study’s other findings:

  • Workers are less likely to receive health benefits in industries with more small firms, a trend that grew during the decade. A contributing factor, according to the researchers: Rising health care costs.
  • Higher levels of full-time employees (35 hours or more a week) in an industry increased the likelihood of health benefits, although the magnitude of this effect declined during the decade.
  • Lower unemployment rates and increased labor demand during the past decade seem to have contributed to an increase in the percent of workers receiving health benefits in industries with proportionately more part-time labor.

According to the researchers, this may be because the high demand for labor in the mid-1990s led employers to use different incentives, such as health benefits, to attract part-time workers.

  • The gap in health benefit levels between retail trade and nonprofessional service industries versus other types of industries widened, contributing toward the long-term decline in employer-based health insurance.
  • There was no change in the impact of union activity on the level of health benefits.

AHRQ Director John M. Eisenberg said his agency recently launched a $45 million research program aimed at reducing racial and ethnic disparities in health care.