What Can We Learn About Health Insurance From Benefit Plans Filed By Employers?. Summary


Estimates of the uninsured range between 20 and 40 million, depending on the definition. Over 60 percent of the adult nonelderly population cite the lack of health insurance through work as a key reason for being uninsured. Existing data provide important insights on the percent of workers who have health benefits available through work and who participate. However, we know much less about the firms themselves, particularly how their benefit offerings evolve over time, how costs of health benefits and cost-sharing with workers are changing within firms, and whether workers are aware that their employers offer benefits.

This study examines the potential of a new data set to answer questions like these, as well as to triangulate evidence on employer-provided benefits with other data sources. The data are based on benefit plans filed by employers within the Department of Labor’s 5500 data files, linked with the Census Bureau’s Longitudinal Employer Household Dynamics (LEHD) data.(1)  This linkage is expected to improve the match between benefit plans and firms, add significantly more information on firm characteristics, and track firms longitudinally over time. The linked data also are matched to SIPP and CPS survey responses for employees within these firms.

The stand-alone 5500 data have many known limitations, but it is hoped that these linkages will overcome some of the issues, while also providing a richness of detail not available before on employers offering benefits. Existing ASPE work with LEHD provided a ready opportunity to explore these enhanced data. Assessing their quality and representativeness, as a first step in determining whether they merit further exploration, is the primary purpose of this report.

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