Insurance on the job in jeopardy

The statistics are striking. One in six Americans who had health insurance provided by an employer in January 2006 lost their insurance at some point in the following two years. Estimates indicate that 87 million people went without insurance at some point in 2007 or 2008.

This problem affected Americans from all walks of life. While younger Americans and those in fair to poor health were slightly more likely to lose their employer-sponsored coverage, we know that it doesn’t matter how much you make, how old you are or how healthy you may be: All Americans are at risk of losing their employer-sponsored healthcare coverage.

The problem is particularly severe because many Americans have no place else to turn for health insurance if they lose the coverage that comes with their job. When workers lose employer-sponsored coverage, they are forced to look to the individual insurance market. But policies on the individual market are expensive and frequently fail to provide the comprehensive coverage that families need. Out-of-pocket costs such as co-pays and deductibles for families who get their insurance through the individual market are unaffordable — nearly 60 percent higher than out-of-pocket costs for workers in employer-sponsored plans. As a result, many Americans have no choice but to remain uninsured.

Health insurance reform will help fix these problems and strengthen the employer-sponsored insurance market. It will start by giving the American people the protections they need by preventing insurance companies from charging higher prices if you have a pre-existing condition.

By driving down healthcare costs, reducing premiums and making care affordable for everyone again, reform will make it easier for employers to offer health benefits to their employees. Tax credits for small businesses that offer insurance will give these employers the help they need to cover their workers. And when we insure more Americans, the “hidden tax” that businesses pay today will decrease. In today’s market, every American with insurance subsidizes care for the uninsured. The hidden tax hurts all of us, and health insurance reform will make it a thing of the past.

I’ve been fortunate enough to travel the country and meet with countless business owners. They want to do right by their employees and give them healthcare coverage, but all too often, they can’t afford to keep their doors open and their employees insured. Health insurance reform will make it possible for these employers to give their hard-working employees the health insurance they need and deserve.

Sebelius is the secretary of Health and Human Services.