Fewer employees are likely to get health benefits in retirementas employers drop or change the benefit, the Employee BenefitResearch Institute says.

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In 2010, less than 18 percent of workers were employed atcompanies that offered health coverage to early retirees, down from29 percent in 1997. The percentage of non-working retirees over age65 with retiree health benefits now sits at 16 percent.

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But despite the fall in retiree health coverage, many workersstill believe they’ll receive it, the new report from thenon-partisan research group finds.

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

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“The data show workers are still more likely to expect retireehealth benefits than retirees are actually likely to have thosebenefits, but the expectations gap is closing,” says EBRI DirectorPaul Fronstin, who co-authored the study.

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

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And, the EBRI report notes, while many employers no longer offerretiree health benefits, most that have continued to do so havemade changes in the benefit package they offer: raising premiumsthat retirees are required to pay, tightening eligibility, limitingor reducing benefits, or some combination.

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Increasing retiree contributions tops the list of likely futurechanges among employers that still offer the benefit.

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