Retiree health benefits dying out

Fewer employees are likely to get health benefits in retirement as employers drop or change the benefit, the Employee Benefit Research Institute says.

In 2010, less than 18 percent of workers were employed at companies that offered health coverage to early retirees, down from 29 percent in 1997. The percentage of non-working retirees over age 65 with retiree health benefits now sits at 16 percent.

But despite the downward trend in retiree health coverage, many workers still believe they'll receive the benefit, the new report from the non-partisan research group finds.

Initial changes employers made to retiree health benefits affected future retirees as opposed to then-current retirees, but now more and more retirees are “aging into” the program changes, and don’t realize they won’t be getting benefits anymore.

“The data show that workers are still more likely to expect retiree health benefits than retirees are actually likely to have those benefits, but the expectations gap is closing,” says EBRI Director Paul Fronstin, who co-authored the study.

By 2010, 32 percent of workers expected retiree health benefits, while only 25 percent of early retirees and 16 percent of Medicare-eligible retirees had them, Fronstin says.

And, the EBRI report notes, while many employers no longer offer retiree health benefits, most that have continued to do so have made changes in the benefit package they offer: raising premiums that retirees are required to pay, tightening eligibility, limiting or reducing benefits, or some combination of these.

Increasing retiree contributions tops the list of likely future changes among employers that still offer the benefit: 43 percent of employers say they are very likely to increase the retirees’ portion of premiums next year, and another 35 percent are somewhat likely to do so.


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