According the the latest data released by the Kaiser Family Foundation, annual health insurance premiums for an average family on an employer-sponsored plan reached $12,106 this year. That’s a 78% increase in the last six years. In that same six years wages rose by 19%, just barely keeping ahead of inflation, which rose by 17%.
No wonder the ranks of the uninsured are growing every year. Every year health insurance is becoming more unaffordable for the average American worker. Most employees are lucky to have the majority of their premiums paid by their employer, although employers are increasingly shifting rate increases to the employee – it’s either that or drop the policy entirely.
Here in Colorado, some 17% of the population is without health insurance – higher than the national average of 15.8%. The vast majority of these people are working adults or the children of working adults. For people who work for large companies, health insurance is almost always provided with the employer shouldering most of the premiums. And larger companies can more readily absorb the annual rate increases for premiums. But for a person who works for a small company, the prospects are not as good. Only 45% of companies with three to nine employees currently offer health insurance, whereas 57% of these companies offered coverage in 2000. It’s the employees of these companies who are going without coverage. They may not qualify for individual health insurance, or they may not be able to afford it.
Overall, 60% of employers in the US offer health insurance to their employees – and cover 158 million Americans. But in 2000, 69% of employers offered health insurance as a benefit to employees. This is an alarming trend. By 2015, will only 50% of employers offer health insurance? Maybe. Will we still have no unified system for providing health care to the rest of the country? Perhaps. Is it right that access to affordable health care should be directly tied to employment with select companies – companies that can choose whether to continue to offer coverage each year?
Just a single generation ago, employment was a much more stable factor in the lives of Americans than it is today. It was very common for a person to get a job with a company, have health insurance and a pension through the employer, and spend their entire career working for the same company. So it made sense for health insurance to be linked to an employer. But the landscape has changed. Pensions are disappearing like a snowman in April. It’s not unusual for a person to have several diverse careers rather than working up the company ladder for a single employer. Having health insurance as an employer-sponsored benefit doesn’t seem to fit our lives anymore. For the 158 million people who do still get coverage through an employer, it works very well. But we need a more unified plan to provide health care to the other 40% of us.