Reports From the Field: Health insurance declining among workers

Health benefits are declining for Americans for the first time since 1993, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI).

The 2001 decline in the percentage of Americans receiving health insurance as an employment benefit is the start of a new trend, according to the November issue of EBRI reports (www.ebri.org).

Coverage cutbacks were caused by the rising cost of health benefits, particularly among small employers that have had to drop health benefits or require workers to pay for them, the report says.

About 62.6% of all Americans were covered by employment-based insurance benefits in 2001, down from 63.6% in 2000. At the same time, the number of uninsured Americans increased and
the percentage of people covered by Medicaid increased while the Medicare population remained the same.

"As long as the economy remains weak and the cost of providing health benefits continues to rise, these trends should be expected to continue or worsen," says Dallas Salisbury, EBRI president and chief executive officer.

Plan knowledge affects how consumers look at cost of drugs

Consumers’ drug-buying behavior may be based on how much they know about their personal health care coverage, a Harris Interactive survey has revealed.

According to the survey, consumers with low levels of knowledge about their coverage appear to be less price-sensitive when they fill prescriptions while those who more thoroughly understand their health coverage are more concerned with price.

The survey showed that more than a third of consumers said they didn’t know how their co-pays were structured.

Only 16% reported that they almost always or often ask their physicians whether the medications are covered by their insurance. Only 4% had changed their prescription plan because a specific drug was not covered.

When presented with the option of a cheaper drug, nearly 60% chose to stay with the more expensive drug. Of those consumers who chose the cheaper drug, 98% said they would change for a price difference of $10 or less.