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Work plans leave minorities at risk

Employer-based health insurance fails to provide for nearly 40 percent of American workers, and blacks and Hispanics are affected the most, a University of Florida sociologist said Tuesday.

"Our system of relying on employers to provide medical insurance without requiring them to do so does not work, particularly for Hispanics and blacks," said Karen Seccombe.

Her conclusions based on a study of the medical insurance backgrounds of 11,494 American workers between the ages of 18 and 64 support the findings of other research.

"These are people who play by the rules of society in that they have jobs, yet they are still falling through the gaps," she said.

Thirty-nine percent of those surveyed received no health insurance at work, including 49 percent of the 1,186 Hispanics in the study, 40 percent of the 2,434 blacks and 38 percent of the 7,874 whites.

Some were insured through their spouse's employer or bought their own coverage, but 17 percent had no health insurance at all.

In that group, racial differences were even more apparent. Twenty-nine percent of the Hispanics and 21 percent of the blacks had no insurance, compared to 14 percent of whites.

"Buying one's own medical insurance is not a practical solution for most people because it costs hundreds of dollars a month," Seccombe said.

Black and Hispanic workers are concentrated in low-paying service and labor jobs, Seccombe said, which traditionally are less likely to offer health benefits.

But even when factors such as college degrees and professional occupation were the same, there were still significant differences between races, Seccombe said.

For example, only 12 percent of white managers and administrators received no health insurance from their employer, compared to 15 percent of blacks and 21 percent of Hispanics in managerial positions.

Whites who did not receive health insurance from their own employer were slightly more likely to get it through a family member's employer than were blacks or Hispanics, Seccombe said.

Data for the study was collected by the National Medical Expenditures Survey in 1987 and released recently. The study had an error rate of about 3 percent.

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