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Texas Falling Behind in Employer-Based Health Insurance

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June 23, 2011

AUSTIN, Texas - Availability of employer-based insurance coverage is significantly less in Texas than the national average, according to a study released this week.

The report shows a big drop-off in the way most American families traditionally have gotten their health insurance - through their employers. Lynn Blewett, who helped conduct the study for the non-partisan Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, says the overall cost of health care has shot up during the past decade, with most of the increase reflected in higher insurance premiums - accounting for the decline in employer-sponsored coverage.

"Many employers are deciding they can't afford to offer coverage, and new employers coming on the market are deciding to wait to offer coverage."

Middle- to low-income families have been hardest hit, says Blewett, director of the University of Minnesota's State Health Access Data Assistance Center. The average Texas family plan went up from about $6,400 a year in 2000 to almost $11,000 in 2009. As a result, Blewett says, many employees are choosing to drop dependents from their policies.

In 2000, 62 percent of Texas employers offered health insurance. Less than a decade later, that figure had dropped by more than 10 points.

"If you look at the 51.5 percent of Texas employers offering, that's well below the national average, which is about 61 percent."

Blewett agrees with another just-released study by the Urban Institute that says that, contrary to recent political rhetoric, the new federal health-care legislation, the Affordable Care Act, will increase, not decrease, employer-based coverage...

"There will be more affordable coverage options offered through the exchange. There'll be a place to go for small employers to look for coverage that best meets their needs."

Critics of the Affordable Care Act have often pointed to a 2011 report by a Chicago consulting firm that suggests the federal health-care law could cause as much as a 30 percent drop in employer-sponsored health insurance. This week, however, the firm issued a clarification, saying the report was meant to express current business attitudes rather than predict an actual impact.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation study is online at rwjf.org. The Urban Institute study is at urban.org.

Peter Malof, Public News Service - TX