Fewer State Employers Providing Health Plans

Article excerpt

Despite the increasing importance of health insurance as an employee benefit, since 1979 the number of workers covered by employer plans has dropped in all wage, race, education and gender categories, a joint legislative panel was told Monday.

Senate fiscal analyst David Blatt told the Joint Task Force on Expansion of Health Insurance Coverage that among all workers, between 1979 and 1993 the percentage participating in employer- provided health insurance decreased from 71 percent to 64 percent. Among those lowest on the wage-earning totem pole, the data fell from 40 percent to 27 percent. Even among high-dollar wage earners, coverage dropped from 87 percent to 80 percent over the same time span.

In 1979, 76 percent of men were provided health insurance at work, compared with 68 percent in 1993, and among women, the percentage fell from 61 percent to 58 percent.

More whites are covered than blacks or Hispanics, but the figures are down in every ethnic category: whites, from 72 percent to 66 percent; blacks, 66 percent to 61 percent and Hispanics, 63 percent to 47 percent.

Blatt pointed out that coverage is also down for all educational levels, ranging from 63 percent of those with less than a high school diploma in 1979, down to 45 percent in 1993, to 80 percent of those with some graduate-level education in 1979 down to 79 percent in 1993.

"Every single category, just about, declines," he said.

Sen. Grover Campbell, R-Owasso, asked whether legislative requirements on health plans could be the reason for the drop in coverage.

"Every time you mandate, the cost of insurance goes up, so employers drop insurance," he said. "Somebody has to pay for that."

Blatt said the same 1998 study by the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured, which produced the statistics, contains some answers, particularly regarding the drop in coverage of the working poor.

The study concluded that for about 70 percent of all uninsured workers, the reason is lack of access to employer-based coverage.

"It's not offered," said Blatt.

He pointed out that in 1996 only 43 percent of workers making $7 per hour or less were offered health insurance by their employers, 70 percent of those making between $7 and $10 per hour, 85 percent of those earning between $10 and $15 an hour and 93 percent of those who are paid more than $15 per hour.

However, the study also noted that declining rates of employee coverage, from 1987 to 1996, can also be explained by increasing numbers of workers rejecting coverage, for a variety of reasons. Blatt said the "family take-up rate," or ratio of workers choosing family coverage, fell from 93 percent to 89 percent, and from 89 percent to 76 percent for those earning less than $7 per hour.

During this period, the study determined, average employee contribution requirements rose by 18.3 percent annually for employee- only coverage and by 11.9 percent per year for family coverage -- at a time during which real hourly wages of low-income workers declined by 2.3 percent.

Blatt said the average required employee contribution runs about $1,650 per year, a substantial sum for low-level wage earners.

He provided U.S. Census Bureau data showing that the most likely individual to be uninsured is a young, poorly educated male who is either employed part-time or unemployed and who is foreign born or not a U. …