Evolving Beyond Traditional Employer-Sponsored Health Insurance

Source: Stuart M. Butler, The Brookings Institution, Hamilton Project Discussion Paper 2007-06, May 2007

For most working-age families, health insurance coverage is directly connected to the workplace. But because of structural weaknesses in this traditional form of coverage, it is steadily eroding, especially for workers in the small business sector. The health insurance system needs to evolve along a different path if it is to adapt to the goals and needs of today’s workforce. Unfortunately, existing laws and insurance arrangements obstruct that evolution. Three key steps are needed to achieve a gradual transformation without disrupting the successful parts of the system.

First, states should establish “insurance exchanges.” Exchanges would offer an array of coverage options, and families could retain their chosen plan from workplace to workplace with the same tax benefits as those available for traditional employer-sponsored plans. Second, most employers should become facilitators, rather than sponsors, of coverage. While many large employers would continue to sponsor coverage, most employers would hand over sponsorship to an insurance exchange and focus on providing administrative support for their employees’ insurance choices. Third, the federal government should reform the tax treatment of health to focus help on lower-income families.
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