News Column

Employers Cover Fewer Virginians

April 12, 2013

Laurence Hammack

The number of Virginians covered by health insurance through an employer declined by nearly 10 percent over the past decade, according to a report released this week.

Just 65.6 percent of the state's residents had insurance through an employer-sponsored plan in 2011, compared with 75.2 percent in 2000, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's report found.

Other states saw more drastic drops, and the percentage of Virginians covered by workplace insurance in 2011 was about six points higher than the national average.

Still, consumer advocates said the numbers underscore the importance of offering more affordable insurance and other options as the costs of health care continue to rise.

"When less people are insured, there is a burden on the system," said Sandra Cook, chairwoman of Virginia Organizing, a grass-roots group that is supporting the implementation of the new federal health care law.

"Thankfully, the Affordable Care Act offered some provisions for lessening that burden, particularly Medicaid expansion," Cook said.

While broader Medicaid coverage is not a done deal in Virginia, advocates say other aspects of the health care law - including subsidies for insurance purchased through exchanges - will assist the uninsured. The Robert Wood Johnson report, prepared by researchers at the University of Minnesota's State Health Access Data Assistance Center, found that the cost of insurance premiums has more than doubled over the past decade in Virginia.

"Higher costs naturally translate into fewer employers offering insurance coverage, and fewer employers accepting it, even when it is offered," Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, said in a statement released with the study.

"That is why it is so important that people have options for purchasing affordable health insurance that meets their needs."

The average annual premium for an employee-only plan in Virginia was $4,961 in 2011, up from $2,391 in 2000, the report found.

Premiums for family coverage rose from $6,314 to $14,365 during the same time period.

The higher cost of health care was not the sole reason for the drop in the number of people covered by employer-sponsored insurance. Other factors identified by the report included decreases in overall employment levels and a reduction in the number of family members covered as dependents by an employee's workplace plan.

Nationwide, the number of Americans covered by employer- sponsored insurance declined by 11.5 million over the past decade.

In 22 states, the drop was greater than 10 percent. (The decline in Virginia was 9.6 percent.) No states experienced an increase in the number of residents covered by workplace plans.

Nonetheless, researchers who conducted the study said employer- sponsored insurance will continue to be a major source of coverage after 2014, when key provisions of the health care law take effect.

Source: (C) 2013 Roanoke Times & World News. via ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved

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