Employment-Based Health Insurance: Past, Present, and Future

We review the rise, stabilization, and decline of employment-based insurance; discuss its transformation from quasi-social insurance to a system based on actuarial principles; and suggest that the presence of Medicare and Medicaid has weakened political pressure for universal coverage. We highlight employment-based insurances flaws: high administrative costs, inequitable sharing of costs, inability to cover large segments of the population, contribution to labor-management strife, and the inability of employers to act collectively to make health care more cost-effective. We conclude with scenarios for possible trajectories: employment-based insurance flourishes, continues to erode, or is replaced by a more comprehensive system.