Fewer Americans under the age of 65 have employer-backed health coverage today than at any time since it became the norm during and right after World War II.

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Still covered through work? It’s getting less common.

Fewer Americans under the age of 65 have employer-backed health coverage today than at any time since it became the norm during and right after World War II.

As measured by the Census Bureau in 2010, the share of Americans with any sort of workplace-sponsored coverage was 58.6 percent, down from nearly 67 percent in 2000.

The decline would have been greater still if roughly 1 million Americans under the age of 26 had not become eligible to stay with or rejoin their parents’ employer coverage under terms of the federal health-care-reform law that kicked in for 2010.

Critics of the law argue that many more firms will drop employee coverage if the plan’s health-insurance exchanges and low-income subsidies take effect as scheduled in 2014.

A report from the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation released March 15 said workplace coverage could end for as many as 20 million Americans under the new law, although the more likely scenario was around 5 million.

The argument is that neither lower payroll taxes for continuing coverage nor the $3,000-per-worker penalty for dropping coverage would be enough to offset an employer’s premium costs of around $12,000 per employee.

But unless the rise in premium costs can be checked, the trend of dropping workplace coverage is likely to continue, even if health reform is stalled by judicial or legislative action. Companies and workers alike are finding the costs too great for the return they can get.

The results of a 2010 national survey by the Washington-based nonprofit Center for Studying Health System Change and released in mid-March painted an even darker picture.

It showed that the share of children and working-age adults with employer-sponsored health coverage dropped 10 percent, from 63.6 percent to 53.5 percent, just between 2007 and 2010.

The results were based on a nationally representative sample of more than 13,000 non-elderly adults questioned by phone or cellphone.

Although the survey pointed to a sluggish economy and loss of employment as the immediate causes of the drop, the researchers also noted several long-term factors driving people away from employer health plans.

Survey tracking going back to 2001 shows that 6 percent fewer health plans are offering family coverage, and that 6 percent fewer workers who have access to a workplace plan are joining up.

The biggest influence, though, has been rising health care costs that have placed a greater share of health-coverage expenses on workers while pushing bosses to cut the value of what they offer.

A report issued last fall by the New York-based Commonwealth Fund showed that premiums for employer-based family coverage rose by an average of 50 percent between 2003 and 2010.

During the same time, the annual amount that employees pay toward their insurance rose by 63 percent as companies increased workers’ share to an average of $3,721 a year for family coverage.

Yet the value of the policies was going down. The report showed that per-person deductibles increased an average of 98 percent nationwide over the seven-year period.

The study also examined state-level trends, and noted that in 2003, workers in no state faced an average deductible of more than $1,000; by 2010, the average exceeded that amount in 29 states.

And a study published last fall by Rand Corporation, looking at health care spending between 1999 and 2009, found that while the income of median-income families grew by 30 percent, a family’s cost for monthly health-insurance premiums rose by 128 percent during the same period and out-of-pocket spending rose by 78 percent.

(Contact Lee Bowman at BowmanL@shns.com)