Nation & World

Employer-sponsored health plans getting stingier

'Employer-based insurance system is facing a crisis': research chief

In future visits to the doctor, you may be asked about guns. (Dreamstime)
In future visits to the doctor, you may be asked about guns. (Dreamstime)

WASHINGTON — Affordable Care Act advocates have been pounding a relentless drum over moves to undermine the 2010 health care law.

But it’s the health coverage people secure through their workplaces that is looking less generous by the year, a new survey finds.

A study released Thursday by the nonpartisan research foundation Commonwealth Fund finds the number of Americans lacking coverage didn’t worsen during the first two years of President Donald Trump’s term, despite efforts by some in the administration and Congress to ease the ACA’s coverage requirements and remove its penalty for being uninsured.

What’s more, a growing pool of Americans with skimpy health insurance plans is fed by those with employer-sponsored coverage — not people buying plans on their own via the ACA’s individual marketplaces, Commonwealth found.

That underscores a long-standing trend wherein employers have grappled with rising health care costs by requiring workers to pay a larger share of their premiums or offering plans with higher deductibles.

“I think our employer-based insurance system is facing a crisis that is related to escalating health care costs and the limited systems available to them to manage those costs,” Commonwealth President David Blumenthal told reporters.

Citing a goal of making health insurance less expensive, the administration has expanded access to potentially leaner health plans via association plans and short-term coverage — and has invited states to request changes to their insurance marketplaces that would allow insurers to duck some coverage requirements.

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But all of the politically fueled debate over the ACA has less bearing on employer-sponsored coverage, under which roughly half of all Americans obtain their insurance.

According to the Commonwealth survey, 28 percent of people with coverage through their workplaces were “underinsured” last year, meaning they faced out-of-pocket costs totaling at least 10 percent of their income — 5 percent, if they were low-income.

Twenty-four percent of these workers were underinsured in 2016.

In contrast, the survey found incremental advances in this area among people who bought insurance on their own — even though Democrats have charged the opposite would be true.

Forty-two percent of people purchasing individual market coverage were uninsured last year, compared with 44 percent in 2016, before Trump took office.

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