EBRI Issue Brief

Health Insurance Portability: Access and Affordability

May 1, 1996 24  pages


  • This Issue Brief provides summary data on the nation's insured and uninsured populations. It describes the characteristics of those whose health insurance status changed between 1994 and 1995. The report also presents the characteristics of groups that did not experience a change in insurance status. Finally, it examines the implications of the current health care reform debate on the issues of access and affordability.
  • The March 1995 Current Population Survey (CPS) is the first CPS to ask questions about health insurance status during a point in time. The data indicate that 127.3 million nonelderly Americans, or 55.8 percent, had some form of employment-based health insurance. Most of those reporting employment-based health insurance (30.5 percent) received coverage through their own employer. Approximately 61.2 million nonelderly Americans (26.8 percent) were uninsured during the reference week in March 1995. This number is in contrast with the data showing that 50.7 million individuals lacked health insurance for at least one month during a 32-month period between 1991 and 1993 and 39.4 million were uninsured during the 1994 calendar year.
  • One clear element of the current health reform debate is an interest in making health insurance more portable. Portability would allow workers and their families to change insurers without being subject to a new waiting period for preexisting conditions. EBRI tabulations indicate that 19.5 million nonelderly Americans had employment-based health insurance in 1994 and were uninsured in 1995. This represents 8.5 percent of the nonelderly population. Not all of these individuals will benefit from increased portability. Some may not have preexisting conditions, and others may not have had employment-based coverage long enough to qualify for portability.
  • The recent health reform legislation would remove barriers to portability of health insurance and increase access. The reforms are driven by the belief that individuals who have been covered by prior health insurance should not be penalized when they change jobs or insurance companies. Current reforms to remove barriers to health insurance also include provisions that may make health insurance more affordable. Ultimately, these reforms will do little to significantly increase health insurance coverage and make health insurance more affordable if the gap between health care cost inflation and overall inflation is not eliminated. However, for those who can afford health insurance coverage, access will be improved.