Erosion could lead to eruption

It wasn’t a huge surprise that the Economic Policy Institute reported this week that employer-based coverage is continuing to erode. Since 2000, 3 million fewer workers are insured through work — the place where 61 percent of Americans get their coverage.

For those Americans who are still lucky enough to get their coverage through work (19 million in California), is it any surprise that you’re paying more? A new report released today by Families USA shows health premiums for workers rose five times (5) more quickly than earnings. Here’s the Sacramento Bee’s story on the report.

These reports, together, tell us that our foundation of employer-based insurance coverage is in trouble. Already, fewer Californians get their coverage through work as contrasted with the rest of the country (52.3% versus 61%). Fast-escalating premiums make it harder for both employer and employee to afford coverage, especially if the insurance products get worse and worse every year.

And if people are finding coverage through work unaffordable, wait until they hit the individual insurance market, where they would be responsible for 100% of the premium costs and not buying as part of a group that can leverage lower rates. Further erosion in job-based coverage just means more uninsured.

Meanwhile, in other health news. The LATimes reports on the United States’ abysmal infant mortality rates. I can’t seem to find the CDC report that the Times is referencing, but looking at the OECD numbers reflects our same sorry state. We spend the most of any industrialized country on health care (15.3% of our gross domestic product, and $6,700 per person), yet our infant mortality rates are high — 6.9 deaths per 1,000 infants — compared to Sweden, which has the lowest infant mortaliy and spends less than half what we do per capita.

All this leads to cheery comments written by the director of the Congressional Budget Office today — Peter Orszag, a health reform champion.

Many observers have noted that addressing the problems in financial markets and the risks to the economy may displace health care reform on the policy agenda — and that may well be the case for some period of time. …

Although it may not seem immediately relevant given our current difficulties, it will be crucial to address the nation’s looming fiscal gap — which is driven primarily by rising health care costs — as the economy eventually recovers from this current downturn.

Translation: Failure to keep health care costs in check will make things even worse.

Health Access California promotes quality, affordable health care for all Californians.

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