EBRI Issue Brief

Features of Employment-Based Health Plans

Sep 1, 1998 24  pages


  • This Issue Brief focuses on changes to the health care financing and delivery system as implemented by employers. It discusses health plan costs, cost sharing, plan funding, health care delivery systems, services covered under various health plan types, coverage limitations, and retiree health coverage.
  • National health expenditures are estimated at $1.035 trillion, representing 13.6 percent of Gross Domestic Product in 1996, up from $699.5 billion and 12.2 percent in 1990. Rising health care spending is also evident at the employer level: In 1996, employer spending on private health insurance totaled $262.7 billion, up from $61.0 billion in 1980. Business health spending as a percentage of total compensation increased from 3.7 percent in 1980 to a high of 6.6 percent in 1993, and declined to 5.9 percent in 1996.
  • Employment-based health plans are the most common source of health insurance coverage among the nonelderly population in the United States, providing coverage to nearly two-thirds of those under age 65.
  • Despite the growth of many cost-sharing provisions, individuals are paying a smaller percentage of total health care costs. In 1960, 69 percent of private health care expenditures were paid out of pocket. Between 1993 and 1996, only 37 percent of private health expenditures were paid out of pocket.
  • One of the most significant developments of the 1980s, which has continued throughout the 1990s, is the growth of managed care plans. As recently as 1994, traditional indemnity plans were the most commonly offered type of employment-based health plan. As fewer employers offered traditional indemnity plans, participation in these plans declined and participation in managed care plans increased. In 1997, 15 percent of employees participating in a health plan were enrolled in an indemnity plan, compared with 52 percent in 1992.
  • Since 1993, employment-based health benefit cost inflation has been virtually nonexistent. Employers have kept cost increases low by using managed care and making other changes. Workers have been shifted to, have been induced to choose, or have voluntarily selected managed care health plans. Preferred provider organization (PPO) and point-of-service (POS) plans have experienced relatively strong gains in enrollment. Employers have also increased the use of utilization review for active workers, and cut back on health benefits for retirees. These changes are in stark contrast to the pre-1993 period, which saw even faster change, with rising health care costs and increasing deductibles and coinsurance for workers in non-HMOs.