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
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
"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
"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
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. …