Even employer-backed health plans too costly

The rate of health care coverage is falling, even among workers eligible for employer-sponsored health plans, according to a recent survey by the Urban Institute. The survey showed a 2 percent decline in health care coverage among this group during the three-year period 1999 through 2001. In 2002, 88 percent of workers and their families eligible for employer coverage purchased it; 90 percent had done so in 1999.

The cost of health care premiums rose 14 percent for all employers in 2003 alone and even more for small employers. Many small businesses are dropping employee coverage altogether or requiring workers to carry more of the cost. Many workers cannot afford the increased premium and withdraw from company plans leaving them and their families exposed to the full brunt of medical costs.

Other workers, though able to pay the premium for themselves, are unable to pay the amount required to include their families, according to the Urban Institute’s data. In 2002 only 83 percent of working family children were covered, a decline of 3.5 percent during the period studied.

Given present national priorities, one need not be a rocket scientist to understand that those suffering most because of these cutbacks are low-income workers and their families. For the purposed of its study, the Urban Institute, a Washington-based nonpartisan policy research and educational organization, classified as low-income an individual earning less than $17,700 annually or a family of four with an income of $36,000 or less. Only 66.8 percent of workers earning such low wages and eligible for coverage purchased it in 2001, down 5 percent from 1999, and only 58.6 of their children were covered.

A brief issued in April of this year by the Commonwealth Fund which analyzed health care coverage during the four years 1996 through 1999 revealed the same trends. According to this report, coverage is even lower among low-income minority workers. Low-income Latinos were particularly hard-hit. Fully 37 percent of Latinos who worked during the entire period were without private coverage. Nearly 80 percent of all low-income Latinos were without coverage at some time during the four years studied. Nearly two-thirds of Latino workers and their families were without insurance for 13 consecutive months.

Racial and ethnic disparity in coverage persists beyond low-income levels: Of Latino workers earning incomes greater than 200 percent of the poverty level, 40 percent were without health coverage at some point during the four years studied. The comparable figures for African American and white workers considered separately were 31 and 25 percent.

We know what happens to those without the means to pay for medical care: they wait until illness or accident is so serious as to drive them to the emergency room. There they receive the care they need, if it is not too late, that is, for the injury or illness may no longer be amenable to treatment.

Early treatment/preventive maintenance checkups save lives and cost far less. More money available for health care means more people successfully treated. Wouldn’t the logical way to handle the cost and availability of health care, therefore, be a national single payer plan? We would all be able to receive the health care we need. Health care is not a privilege; it is a basic human right.

See the reports cited above at www.cmwf.org and www.urban.org. The author can be reached at pww@pww.org. (see related story below)



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Universal health care within reach

“Health Care Crisis and Election 2004,” a conference and rally of the uninsured, will be held at the time of the Republican Convention in New York City, Aug. 31-Sept. 1. Leading off the meet will be Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), whose proposed legislation, the U.S. Health Insurance Bill, HR 676, would provide universal coverage for health care, prescription drugs, mental health, dental, optical and long-term care, according to the conference call of the Campaign for National Health Program Now.

Besides Conyers, scheduled speakers include Steelworkers Union President Leo Gerard, General Secretary of the United Methodist Church Jim Winkler, actors Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins, public television commentator Bill Moyers, Kentucky Nurses organizer Kay Tillow and Dr. Quentin Young from Physicians for National Health Care. The conference will open at 9:00 a.m. Aug. 31 at City University of New York, 365 Fifth Avenue. For more information call 800-453-1305 or go to cnhpnow.org.