The share of Americans who get health benefits through work dropped to 60% in 2011, continuing a decade-long slide that highlights the challenges facing President Barack Obama’s insurance overhaul.

U.S. employers provided coverage for 159 million people in 2011, 12 million fewer than in 2000, according to a study released last week by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The report blames the decline on the total number of jobs available as well as insurance premiums that have more than doubled in some cases.

 “Everyone’s costs have increased dramatically,” Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president of the Princeton, New Jersey-based foundation, said in a statement. “Higher costs naturally translate into fewer employers offering insurance coverage, and fewer employees accepting it, even when it is offered.”

Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is expected to boost coverage in the U.S. by 27 million people this decade, according to congressional projections, even as employer-sponsored insurance continues to shrink.

So far, the legislation’s main effect has been to increase coverage for young adults, says Julie Sonier, a University of Minnesota researcher who helped prepare the report. The act allows children to stay on a parents’ health plan to age 26.

Beyond that, it’s too early to measure the law’s impact on employers, says Sonier.

Nationally, the share of private-sector employers offering coverage fell to about 52% in 2011 from 59% in 2000, according to the study. Insurance costs increased during the time period, with the average premium for a single employee doubling to $5,081. The average family premium rose 125% to $14,447, the report found.

Employee take-up of benefits dropped over the study period as well, to 76% from 82%, researchers said.

Insurance rates varied widely from state to state, according to the report. Michigan, Indiana and South Carolina saw the steepest declines in employer-backed coverage, at about 15 percentage points each. Alaska, Massachusetts and North Dakota were the only states with stable rates, the report found. No state saw an increase.

The report is based on data from the U.S. Census and other surveys and sponsored by the foundation, a research and advocacy group that promotes health coverage.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Nussbaum in New York at anussbaum1@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reg Gale at rgale5@bloomberg.net.

 

Photo: ThinkStock

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