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More U.S. workers turn down costly health coverage
May 4, 2006

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A growing number of American workers at companies offering health insurance are turning it down because of a steep 42 percent jump in recent premiums, a non-partisan health think tank said on Thursday.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation said 3 million fewer U.S. workers eligible for employer-sponsored health insurance enrolled in 2003, compared with 1998.

"This report should be as alarming to Congress as it is to the American people because employer-sponsored health insurance is the backbone of America's health care system," said Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, chief executive of the foundation.

"As costs go up, fewer individuals and families have insurance and fewer businesses can afford to provide coverage for their employees."

The national increase in individual premiums during the five-year period was $1,027, or from $2,454 in 1998 dollars adjusted for inflation to $3,481 in 2003. That is a 42 percent increase, the foundation said.

Employers, who pay the majority of health insurance costs for their workers, are also seeing a substantial increase in costs. In both 1998 and in 2005, employers paid 82 percent of the annual premium cost for their workers' health coverage, it said.

"As health care costs rise, large and small companies are finding it hard to offer affordable health insurance," Lavizzo-Mourey said.

Nationwide, 80.3 percent of eligible private-sector workers enrolled in their company's health insurance in 2003, down 5 percent from 1998, the group said. States such as New Jersey and Nebraska had steeper, double-digit declines.

Reuters Health

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