Slow, steady drop seen in employee health benefits

Employer-sponsored health coverage isn’t anywhere close to vanishing, but two new studies suggest that there has been gradual erosion of benefit availability over recent years.

The Commonwealth Fund found that the share of private-sector workers who could get health coverage through their employers fell 17 percent from 1988 to 1998. The sharpest decline — 39 percent since 1979 — was seen among employees in the bottom fifth of the hourly wage scale.

A decline in benefit availability for retirees age 55 and older is evident, too. The General Accounting Office reports that since the early 1990s, there has been a slight but steady drop in employer-sponsored benefits — despite the strong economy and relatively small premium increases that characterized most of this period.

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