Workplace Health Coverage Falls, Despite Economic Recovery: EBRI

Although the economy is recovering, the percentage of workers with health benefits has not increased, according to recent research from the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI). However, there does remain a strong link between health benefits and employment: In 2011, 58.4 percent of nonelderly individuals (under age 65) were covered by employment-based health benefits, including 68.3 percent of workers, 34.7 percent of nonworking adults, and 54.7 percent of children. As a result, employment-based health benefits remain the most common form of health insurance for nonpoor and nonelderly individuals in the United States.

Since the 1980s, the percentage of individuals without health insurance coverage has generally been increasing, in large part because rising health-benefit costs have eroded the number of workers with employment-based coverage, EBRI noted. However, for a few years during the late 1990s, the percentage of workers and their families with employment-based coverage increased, and the percentage without health insurance declined, partly due to the strong economy and low unemployment. During the recent economic recession, health coverage fell.

By looking at health insurance coverage rates month-by-month, EBRI was able to track a detailed picture of the uninsured. Specifically, between December 2007 and August 2009 (immediately before and after the recession), the percentage of workers with coverage in their own names fell from 60.4 percent to 55.9 percent. With the official end of the recession, there also appeared to be the beginning of a recovery in the percentage of workers with employment-based coverage: by December 2009, 56.6 percent of workers had employment-based coverage. However, the EBRI report notes that by October 2011, coverage had slipped back to 54.7 percent—while the economy expanded.

The reason is cost, according to Paul Fronstin, director of EBRI’s Health Research and Education Program. “Most workers say they did not have coverage because of cost, whether they mean the cost of employment-based coverage or coverage that they could purchase directly from an insurer,” Fronstin said. “Uninsured workers reporting cost as a reason for not having coverage has been at or near 90 percent since late 2009.”

The full report was published in the July EBRI Notes, Tracking Health Insurance Coverage by Month: Trends in Employment-Based Coverage Among Workers, and Access to Coverage Among Uninsured Workers, 1995‒2012. For more information, visit

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