EBRI Issue Brief

Employment-Based Health Benefits: Who Is Offered Coverage vs. Who Takes It

Sep 1, 1999 20  pages


  • This Issue Brief provides data on employment-based health insurance, with a discussion of recent trends and how sponsorship rates, offer rates, coverage rates, and take-up rates vary for different workers. Other sections examine reasons why workers do not participate in employment-based health plans, alternative sources of health insurance, and uninsured workers.
  • In 1997, 83 percent of the 108.1 million wage and salary workers in the United States were employed by a firm that sponsored a health plan. Of those workers, 75 percent were offered coverage, and 62 percent (or 67.5 million workers) were covered by that plan. Of those workers who worked for an employer that offered them a health plan, 83 percent participated in the plan.
  • Sponsorship rates have barely changed in the last 11 years. In 1988, 83 percent of wage and salary workers reported that their employer sponsored a health plan. This declined slightly to 82 percent in 1993 but had increased to 83 percent by 1997.
  • Offer rates significantly changed between 1988 and 1997. In 1988, 82 percent of workers reported that they were eligible for health insurance through their employer. By 1993, the percentage of eligible workers declined to 74 percent, and it has only slightly increased since then to 75 percent in 1997.
  • In 1997, 40.6 million American workers did not have health insurance through their own job. Forty-five percent of the workers without coverage were employed at a firm where the employer did not provide health insurance to any workers. Thirty-three percent of the workers without coverage were offered coverage but declined it. Twenty-two percent of the workers without coverage were employed in a firm that offered health insurance to some of its workers, but certain workers were not eligible for the health plan.
  • The 13.7 million workers who were offered coverage but declined it gave a number of reasons for doing so. In the majority of cases (61 percent), the worker was covered by another health plan. Of the remainder, 20 percent reported that health insurance was just too costly.
  • Overall, 41 percent of the 40.6 million workers who were not participating in an employment-based health plan through their own employer had coverage through a spouse. However, 42 percent of the 40.6 million workers who declined their employers' health plan or who were not offered health insurance from their employer were uninsured.