American businesses are leaving more and more part-time employees at the curb and uninsured when it comes to employer-based health insurance coverage.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is the latest major employer to turn its back on these forgotten workers. Last month, the nation's largest retailer announced that it would no longer offer health insurance benefits to its new part-time employees, as it has since 1996.
The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that just 16 percent of all employers offer health insurance to those who work fewer than 40 hours per week. The numbers increase to 42 percent among large employers.
But Wal-Mart's surprising move could signal that even major employers are being forced to cut somewhere as they struggle to contain rising health care costs in the face of a sputtering economic recovery.
As we've discussed previously, employers have been slowly shifting the cost of their group plans onto the shoulders of their workers. Last year, the worker's portion of the load increased 3 percent to nearly 30 percent of the premium over the previous year, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. In the past decade, the worker's share increased 131 percent.
The average annual premiums for employer-sponsored health insurance in 2011 are $5,429 for single coverage and $15,073 for family coverage. Compared to 2010, premiums for single coverage are 8 percent higher and premiums for family coverage are 9 percent higher. The 9-percent growth rate in family premiums for 2011 is significantly higher than the 3-percent growth rate in 2010.
What goes unreported in these findings are the internal ways that businesses are juggling employee schedules to keep workers below full-time status. Given the skyrocketing cost of health coverage to employers, it's no surprise that such managerial defense has become the best offense for employers struggling to afford health coverage today.
What will become of these forgotten workers, some of whom work two or three part-time jobs without hope of affordable health insurance?
My hope is that health care reform will prove flexible enough when the state insurance exchanges open for business in 2014 to finally provide health care citizenship for these overlooked, hardworking Americans.
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