U.S. Workers Face Barriers to Health Coverage

Many working Americans are unable to get health insurance through their employers because of waiting periods for new employees and exclusions for part-time workers, according to a study.

Workers also are less likely to enroll when they have to shell out a high monthly contribution toward their health insurance, researchers wrote in the July/August issue of the journal Health Affairs.

The study, based on a 1999 national survey of nearly 2,000 employers, provides new insight into the impact of eligibility policies on employee health coverage.

"Nearly one of four employees working for firms that offer benefits is

ineligible," lead author Jon Gabel of the Health Research and Educational Trust in Washington, D.C., said in a statement. "Removing barriers to participation could significantly increase coverage rates for working families"

Waiting times appear to be prevalent nationally, with less than one in three workers (31 percent) having coverage that begins immediately.

About one in nine workers has to wait at least 4 months, the study findings show.

The study also noted that many small firms do not offer health insurance because of high costs.

"If insurers could offer bare bones, low-priced coverage, many more small firms would provide health benefits," said Gabel. "Unfortunately, that has not been the real-world experience."

The slowing of the overall economy also limits participation, according to Gabel.

"Low-paid workers are highly sensitive to the cost of health insurance," said Gabel. "A softening of the labor market will enable employers to pass on rising costs to workers, and as a resutl, more workers will decline coverage."

Edited by Virginia Sutcliffe

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