Chamber Calls Decline in Workplace Health Coverage Wake Up Call
WASHINGTON, D.C. - The United States Chamber of Commerce warned that the dramatic increase in the number of Americans without health coverage would only worsen as employers continue to struggle with soaring health care costs.
"Nearly two and a half million Americans were added to the ranks of the uninsured last year," said Kate Sullivan, Chamber director of health care policy. "When 15 percent of the country - 43.6 million people - lack even the most basic coverage, it's time for some creative problem-solving."
New U.S. Census Bureau data shows an increase of 2.4 million more uninsured people in 2002. While more than 60 percent of Americans have employer-provided health insurance coverage, that number fell by nearly 1.3 million individuals, the second consecutive year that employer-based health coverage has declined after steady growth since 1993. Of particular note is the loss of health coverage for 897,000 people who worked full-time in 2002.
"Five years of double-digit increases in health plan costs have been particularly hard on small business owners, making it likely that next year's data will be even more sobering," said Sullivan. "Policymakers need to wake up and create more employer options for health plans and to give those who purchase coverage on their own the same tax advantages as those who receive it through their jobs."
The Chamber supports legislation allowing small employers to buy health coverage through purchasing pools that operate under the same federal law that large companies use, along with equitable tax treatment for individuals who purchase their own health coverage and tax credits targeted to those with modest incomes, as the best tools to make coverage more available and affordable and reduce the growing number of uninsured. Next year, the Chamber will partner with the AFL-CIO, AARP and other organizations during "Cover the Uninsured Week" May 10-16, to emphasize special assistance and information available to small businesses on finding and maintaining coverage for their employees.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is the world's largest business federation representing more than three million businesses and organizations of every size, sector and region.