Sources of Health Insurance and Characteristics of the Uninsured: Analysis of the March 1999 Current Population Survey

January 2000
EBRI Issue Brief #217
Paperback, 28 pp.
PDF, 178 kb
Employee Benefit Research Institute, 2000

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Executive Summary

  • This Issue Brief provides summary data on the insured and uninsured populations in the nation and in each state. It discusses the characteristics most closely related to an individual's health insurance status. Based on EBRI estimates from the March 1999 Current Population Survey (CPS), it represents 1998 data—the most recent data available.
  • In 1998, 194.7 million nonelderly Americans—81.6 percent—had some form of health insurance. More than 64 percent had it through an employment-based health plan; 6.5 percent purchased it on their own; and 14.3 percent were covered by a public program, mostly through Medicaid (10.4 percent).
  • In 1998, 18.4 percent of the nonelderly population was uninsured (43.9 million people), compared with 14.8 percent in 1987. The percentage of uninsured Americans has generally been increasing since at least 1987, although the percentage uninsured in 1998 was not statistically different from the percentage uninsured in 1997 (18.3 percent). The increase in the uninsured prior to 1993 can be attributed to the erosion of employment-based health insurance. However, since 1993, the percentage of nonelderly Americans covered by an employment-based health plan has increased from 63.5 percent to 64.9 percent.
  • The decline in public sources of health insurance would mostly explain the recent increase in the uninsured. For example, between 1994 and 1998 the percentage of nonelderly Americans covered by CHAMPUS/CHAMPVA declined from 3.8 percent to 2.9 percent, in large part due to downsizing in the military. Similarly, between 1993 and 1998, the percentage of nonelderly Americans covered by Medicaid declined from 12.7 percent to 10.4 per-cent as people left welfare.
  • The increase in employment-based coverage since 1994 was due mainly to a higher likelihood that children were covered by an employment-based health plan. Between 1994 and 1998, the percentage of children covered by an employment-based health plan increased from 58.1 percent to 60.2 percent. For adults, it increased less than one percentage point, from 66.1 percent to 66.9 percent.
  • Adults started to realize gains in employment-based health insurance between 1997 and 1998. Between 1994 and 1997, the percentage of working adults with employment-based health insurance coverage held steady at roughly 72.3 percent. During this period, health care cost inflation was essentially nonexistent. However, between 1997 and 1998, the percentage of working adults with employment-based health insurance increased from 72.2 percent to 72.8 percent, despite the apparent return of health care cost inflation in 1998. It is likely that the changing composition of the labor force accounted for some of the increase in employment-based coverage.