Fewer families get health coverage from workplace

  • Article by: JACKIE CROSBY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 28, 2011 - 7:02 PM

A University of Minnesota study finds that more Minnesotans are winding up uninsured or in taxpayer-funded programs.

The number of Minnesotans who get health insurance through employers has dropped 10 percentage points in the past decade, outpacing the decline nationwide, according to a study released Tuesday by the University of Minnesota.

A decade ago, about 8 in 10 workers and their families received health benefits from a company-offered plan. By 2009, the most recent year available, 71 percent of Minnesotans were covered through the workplace.

The shift parallels a trend in which growing numbers of Minnesotans earn lower wages and the ranks of those living in poverty swells.

"To see this big drop in Minnesota was striking," said Lynn Blewett, director of the university's State Health Access Data Assistance Center, which produced the national report. "We've been watching it tick down from year to year on a national level, but in Minnesota, we think we're in this bubble. We're clearly not."

Nationally, about 7.3 million fewer Americans now receive health care through the workplace, a drop of about 8 percentage points.

Those still covered by their employers also are paying significantly more, part of a nationwide trend as companies shift the burden of paying for health care to workers amid skyrocketing health care costs.

Individuals in the private sector contribute 84 percent more toward health care than they did a decade ago, or about $4,516, according to the survey. That's about on par with the national average.

Premiums for family coverage in Minnesota rose 81 percent, compared with the national 75 percent, to cost an average $11,905 a year.

Moderate- and low-income families were disproportionately affected by the drop in employer-sponsored coverage.

The study looked at people who make double the poverty line or less, or about $44,000 household income for a family of four. Ten years ago, about 44 percent of those people had coverage. Today, a little more than a third do.

"Minnesota is changing," Blewett said. "A lot. We have a lot more moderate and really low-income people than we had 10 years ago. They're in low-wage jobs, they're part-time employees, they're working where health insurance coverage is less likely to be offered. And when it is offered, they're less likely to take it. ... They'd rather feed their kids."

As a result, more people have turned to publicly funded health plans for insurance or have simply dropped coverage altogether.

The percentage of Minnesotans using public health care nearly doubled during this time frame, from 8 percent to 15 percent, while the ranks of the state's uninsured grew from 7 percent to 9 percent. About 240,000 Minnesota children lost employer-sponsored coverage.

"We really need to focus on delivery systems and structures and the way we pay for services," Blewett said. "As employers pull out, more people are going to move to public programs. That's going to be a growing need.... It has to be replaced by something."

A key component of the health insurance reform law will require large employers to offer coverage or pay a penalty that would help workers buy coverage through an insurance exchange.

A recent report from corporate consulting firm Mercer found that while most employers said they were "not likely" to stop offering health insurance, other surveys indicate many are taking a hard look at whether to continue coverage.

In the new study, Minnesota was one of a dozen states to drop 10 percent or more, joining Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Texas.

Jackie Crosby • 612-673-7335

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