Original Link: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article/article?f=/c/a/2009/03/23/BUEK16LI7S.DTL
By Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar
American workers - whose taxes pay for extensive government health programs - are getting squeezed like no other group by private health insurance premiums that are rising much faster than their wages.
While just about all retirees are covered, and nearly 90 percent of children have health insurance, workers now are at significantly higher risk of being uninsured than in the 1990s, the last time lawmakers attempted a health care overhaul, according to a study to be released today.
The study for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that nearly 1 in 5 workers is uninsured, a statistically significant increase from fewer than 1 in 7 during the mid-1990s.
The problem is cost. Total premiums for employer plans have risen six to eight times faster than wages, depending on whether individual or family coverage is picked, the study found.
"The thing I think is interesting is how many workers are newly uninsured," said Lynn Blewett, director of the State Health Access Data Assistance Center at the University of Minnesota, which conducted the research. "In the last couple of years, we've seen a deterioration of private health insurance."
About 20.7 million workers were uninsured in the mid- 1990s. A decade later, it was 26.9 million, the study found.
In the 1990s, there were eight states with 20 percent or more of the working age population uninsured. Now there are 14, including California.
Yet workers continue to pay the bill for covering others. Their payroll taxes help support Medicare, which covers the elderly. Income taxes and other federal and state levies pay for covering the poor and the children of low-income working parents.
The study comes as the Obama administration is scrambling to maintain support for a health care overhaul this year in the face of record federal deficits. A program like President Obama's, which would commit the nation to coverage for all, is estimated to cost about $1.5 trillion over 10 years.
If anything, the situation for workers appears to be worse than is reflected in the report. It analyzed census data through 2007, the latest year available. But that was before the economy tumbled into recession.