EBRI Health Research and Education Program Overview

EBRI's Health Research and Education Program (HREP) encompasses many topics and issues of vital interest to the nation's health care system and the role that employee health benefits plays within that system. Each year, the program produces a thorough analysis of the sources of health coverage in the United States as well as the characteristics and number of the uninsured. The program continually tracks trends and innovations in employee health benefits, such as the recent emergence of consumer-driven health benefits and the ebbing of retiree health coverage. During the past few years, as more employers have begun questioning their role as providers of health benefits, EBRI's health research program also has given increased attention to exploring the "business case" for offering benefits. The "business case" entails the financial reasons, including gains in productivity, that may accrue to firms as a result of ensuring workers have access to health care services. Each year, the program also fields a survey probing the confidence that the public has in health care in the United States. Finally, the program has an ongoing commitment to public education about employee health benefit issues. The need for public education has become greater in recent years with the growth of consumer-driven health benefits, which require individuals to make an increasing number of health and financial decisions on their own.

Analyzing Trends in Health Insurance Coverage
The Health Research and Education Program's annual report on sources of health insurance coverage in the United States has become the primary source of information on insured and uninsured persons for policymakers, the media, and the general public. This annual report not only provides summary information on the insured and the uninsured, it also provides this information for each state. It discusses the way health protection has changed for the insured, how the states rank in health insurance protection, and the characteristics most closely related to whether an individual is likely to have health insurance protection.

Tracking Developments in Employee Health Benefits
To meet the changing needs of policymakers and member organizations in formulating public policy and business strategies, the Health Research and Education Program continually monitors and analyzes developments in employee health benefits. In 2001 and 2002, for example, the program produced several Issue Briefs and organized two policy forums focusing on the issues raised by the rapid growth of consumer-driven health benefits. As policymakers debated whether to add outpatient prescription drug benefits to Medicare, the program also examined the continued decline of employers' commitment to providing retiree health benefits. An area of focus touching virtually all of the program's work has been the rapid rise in health-care and health-benefit costs. While many benefits experts are hopeful that new consumer-driven health benefit designs might help stem the growth in costs by shifting more financial responsibility to individuals, others express serious doubts that this strategy will work and see no end in sight to high cost inflation. The research and education program is always looking forward in order to meet the needs of policymakers and member organizations in the future.

Exploring the "Business Case" for Offering Health Benefits
In recent years, the Health Research and Education Program has devoted considerable attention to exploring the business case for offering health benefits. In 2001 and 2002, under a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the program undertook a national study of employer attitudes and practices concerning employee health benefits and the issue of the uninsured. As part of this study, researchers conducted employer focus groups in cities in different regions of the country as well as a national survey. The program also fields surveys of small employers, which include questions about what motivates them to offer benefits. As health care costs continue to increase more rapidly than corporate profits, labor, and production costs, the "business case" for offering health benefits continues to be a critical area of research.

Health Confidence Survey
The Health Confidence Survey (HCS) provides a consistent objective source of information on Americans' attitudes toward health care and health insurance. Some of the questions the HCS considers include the following: What do Americans think about health care? What are their perceptions of health care costs? What do they think and know about managed care? Is the managed care backlash of policy makers justified by public opinion? The HCS also covers concerns about the future of the Medicare program, retiree health benefits, prescription drugs, and the uninsured.

Small Employer Health Benefits Survey
The Small Employer Health Benefits Survey (SEHBS) examines a number of issues related to the decision by small employers about whether to offer health insurance coverage to workers.

For additional information contact:

Paul Fronstin, Ph.D.
Senior Research Associate and
Director, Health Research and Education Program
Employee Benefit Research Institute
2121 K Street NW
Suite 600
Washington, DC 20037
Voice: 202-659-0670
Fax: 202-775-6312
E-mail: fronstin@ebri.org