Employer-sponsored health insurance is paid for by businesses on behalf of their employees as part of an employee benefit package. Most private (non-government) health coverage in the US is employment-based. Nearly all large employers in America offer group health insurance to their employees. The typical large-employer PPO plan is typically more generous than either Medicare or the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program Standard Option.
The employer typically makes a substantial contribution towards the cost of coverage. Typically, employers pay about 85% of the insurance premium for their employees, and about 75% of the premium for their employees' dependents. The employee pays the remaining fraction of the premium, usually with pre-tax/tax-exempt earnings. These percentages have been stable since 1999. Health benefits provided by employers are also tax-favored: Employee contributions can be made on a pre-tax basis if the employer offers the benefits through a section 125 cafeteria plan.
Although workers are effectively paid less than they would be, because of the cost of insurance premiums to the employer, employer-sponsored health insurance offers several benefits to workers, including economies of scale, a reduction in adverse selection pressures on the insurance pool (premiums are lower when all employees participate rather than just the sickest), and reduced income taxes. The disadvantages include disruptions related to changing jobs, the regressive tax effect (high-income workers benefit far more from the tax exemption for premiums than low-income workers), and increased spending on healthcare.
Costs for employer-paid health insurance are rising rapidly: since 2001, premiums for family coverage have increased 78%, while wages have risen 19% and inflation has risen 17%, according to a 2007 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Employer costs have risen noticeably per hour worked, and vary significantly. In particular, average employer costs for health benefits vary by firm size and occupation. The cost per hour of health benefits is generally higher for workers in higher-wage occupations, but represent a smaller percentage of payroll. The percentage of total compensation devoted to health benefits has been rising since the 1960s. Average premiums, including both the employer and employee portions, were $4,704 for single coverage and $12,680 for family coverage in 2008.
However, in a 2007 analysis, the Employee Benefit Research Institute concluded that the availability of employment-based health benefits for active workers in the US is stable. The "take-up rate," or percentage of eligible workers participating in employer-sponsored plans, has fallen somewhat, but not sharply. EBRI interviewed employers for the study, and found that others might follow if a major employer discontinued health benefits. Effective by January 1, 2014, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will impose a $2000 per employee tax penalty on employers with over 50 employees who do not offer health insurance to their full-time workers. (In 2008, over 95% of employers with at least 50 employees offered health insurance.) On the other hand, public policy changes could also result in a reduction in employer support for employment-based health benefits.
Although much more likely to offer retiree health benefits than small firms, the percentage of large firms offering these benefits fell from 66% in 1988 to 34% in 2002.
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