Number of employers offering healthcare coverage dips

Health insurance, pen and stethoscope
Between 2011 and 2015, the percentage of companies with fewer than 50 employees offering healthcare coverage dropped from 35.7% to 29.4%. (Getty/Minerva Studio)

The number of employers offering sponsored health plans has fallen nationwide in recent years, a trend driven by an increasing number of small businesses electing not to offer coverage to employees.

The percentage of total companies in the U.S. offering sponsored health plans decreased from 51% to 45.7% between 2011 and 2015, according to a new report (PDF) produced by researchers at the University of Minnesota's State Health Access Data Assistance Center, with funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. In that same window, the percentage of employers with fewer than 50 employees offering coverage dropped from 35.7% to 29.4%.

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Meanwhile, the percentage of companies with more than 50 employees offering health insurance actually increased incrementally, from 95.7% in 2011 to 96% in 2015. All told, in 2015 about 75% of eligible workers were enrolled in an employer-sponsored plan, a decrease of about 1% from the year before.

“Trends in this market segment continue to be stable overall, despite some decline in offer rates among smaller firms," Kathy Hempstead, senior adviser at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, said in an emailed announcement about the report.

People employed by businesses with fewer than 50 employees are also more likely to be enrolled in a high-deductible plan than are those working for a larger employer. A little more than 44% of those at smaller companies were enrolled in a plan with a high deductible, compared with about 38% of people working at larger companies.

Other recent research shows that premiums for employer-sponsored plans have risen modestly compared to their counterparts in the individual markets, but that trend has been driven by an increasing reliance on high-deductible plans and other strategies to shift more of the cost to employees. Still, many employers have been working directly with providers in order to find ways to offer more value to employees.