Economic Changes Weaken Value Of Health Insurance

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture
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Although "jobs, benefits, housing, health coverage, college and retirement savings, even bought-and-paid-for insurance all played crucial roles in maintaining families' economic stability during the second half of the 20th century ... the protective value of each has been weakened over the last generation," Peter Gosselin, national economic correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, writes in a column.

According to Gosselin, "When Washington officials and the presidential candidates talk about benefits, they usually mean public benefits such as Social Security and Medicare." However, "the benefits that really count for the vast majority of working-age Americans are their employer-provided benefits -- the health insurance and disability coverage and the 401(k) they've been building," which "together form a crucial safety net for themselves and their families," Gosselin writes, adding that "although most Americans are not aware of it, their grasp on these benefits -- their assurances of receiving them, their remedy if they do not -- is governed by a single federal law, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, or ERISA."

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Gosselin continues that ERISA was meant to "protect employee benefits," but "over the last generation, the Supreme Court and increasingly conservative federal appeals courts have rendered a series of decisions involving ERISA that have made it easier for employers and their agents to deny benefits to workers and their families."

In a number of areas, including health care and student loans, the way people are paying for services has changed. For example, Gosselin notes that health insurance "costs more today and covers less" than it did 20 years ago. According to Gosselin, "Some argue that in the new, globally competitive economy, U.S. business and government simply cannot afford to provide the kinds of protections against financial peril that they used to." He writes, "Perhaps not. But that doesn't mean that we should automatically shunt the job of bearing these dangers to families alone," adding that "it most assuredly doesn't mean that we should pass along the task without letting people know they've just been assigned the job of bearing a big new load of risk" (Gosselin, Los Angeles Times, 7/6).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives, and sign up for email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email . The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. © 2007 Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.

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