Report cites employer insurance decline

Almost half of Louisiana residents got health insurance through their employers in 2011, 10 percentage points fewer than in 2000, according to a new report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

In 2000, 2.3 million Louisiana residents received insurance through their job or a family member’s, the report shows. In 2011, that number dropped to 1.9 million.

Over the same period, the average annual premium for employee-only coverage increased from $2,409 to $4,996, the report shows. Health insurance premiums for family coverage jumped from $6,353 to $13,401.

The cost increases had the greatest impact on small firms — those with 50 workers or fewer — and low-wage businesses, said Lynn Blewitt, director of the University of Minnesota’s State Health Access Data Assistance Center, which did the research.

“So if the majority of firms in Louisiana are low-wage and small, those are the people being hit the most in these trends,” Blewitt said.

Blewitt said lower-income residents, those below 200 percent of the poverty line, were also hit hard by the drop in employer-sponsored insurance, she said. The state’s lower-income residents saw a fall of 17.1 percentage points from 2000 to 2011, one of the biggest reductions in the country.

The national average was 10 percentage points for the lower-income population, she said.

According to the Small Business Administration, more than 97 percent of Louisiana’s employers are small businesses, and those companies employ 54.5 percent of the private-sector workforce.

The most recent figures for employer-sponsored insurance continued a long-term trend, Blewitt said.

Blewitt said she had hoped the decline in employer-sponsored insurance might slow in the post-recession economy, but it has not with the exception of a few states.

However, state health insurance exchanges, subsidies and expanded Medicaid programs — all part of the federal Affordable Care Act — should help many people buy health insurance, Blewitt said.

The federal exchange will offer options for individuals and small employers, she said. There are “pretty generous” tax credits or subsidies available to lower-income residents, those who earn 138 percent to 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

Two hundred percent of the poverty level would amount to $47,000 in income.

Rene Amar, Louisiana director for the National Federation of Independent Business, said given the increase in premiums, she wasn’t surprised that fewer employers could afford to offer workers coverage.

The Affordable Care Act was supposed to help lower-income residents buy health insurance, Amar said. But the process appears very cumbersome.

“I’m deeply concerned about how employees are going to be educated on it,” Amar said.

The Obama administration has set aside $54 million for community groups’ educational efforts in the 33 states, like Louisiana, that decided to let the federal government establish online health insurance exchanges or marketplaces. But critics say that’s nowhere near enough money to make sure millions of people get coverage.

Amar said the Affordable Care Act’s provisions are also difficult for employers.

For example, a business with 60 full-time employers could face thousands of dollars in federal penalties if one of those workers decides to buy insurance through an exchange instead of choosing the employer-sponsored coverage, Amar said.

“I don’t see how that will encourage small-business owners to provide coverage for their employees,” she said.