Health insurance being provided by employers has been a tenet of the American economic system for generations. And as recently as 2000 a solid majority of Americans had heath insurance provided through the workplace. However, according to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, that percentage had slipped to 50 percent by 2008 and to 45 percent by 2011. It used to be that the large majority of full-time jobs came with health insurance benefits, and even a significant minority of part-time jobs as well, but today almost no part-time jobs include paid health insurance.
History of Health Insurance in U.S.
The earliest forms of health insurance in the U.S. were "sickness insurance" policies that first appeared around 1900. These policies were more like what we call disability insurance today. Eventually improvements in medical care and the rising cost of it led to a demand for real medical insurance, and Blue Cross and Blue Shield hospital and physician services insurance was introduced in the 1930s. The next two decades saw a rapid growth in the health insurance industry until by 1958 almost 75 percent of Americans had some form of private health insurance coverage. (Ref. 3)
Rising Health Care Costs Squeezing Employers
The dramatic increase in health care costs, and the resultant corresponding rise in health insurance premiums over the last couple of decades has forced employers to scale back the benefits they offer employees. And not just in terms of the percentage of the health insurance premiums they pay for employees, but also in terms of moving to lower-quality plans with higher deductibles and tightening eligibility for the plans.
Few Benefits for Part Time Employees
Unfortunately, the Great Recession of the late 2000s exacerbated a growing trend in business of offering few benefits to part-time employees, and companies that offer full (or any) health insurance benefits to part-timers have become few and far between. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, as of 2010, only one-third of companies that offer health insurance to full-time employees also offered it to part-time employees.
Definitions of Part Time
One positive bit of news for part-time workers is that some businesses have shown some flexibility in their definition of part time, making 21 hours a week average sufficient to qualify for benefits, for example, or allowing split positions where two workers do "one" job and work out a split for the benefits. However, there are other companies that purposely schedule employees for slightly less than full-time hours, such as 32 hours a week, just so the workers won't qualify for benefits.