August 4, 2004 -- Results of a new study show that the country's three-year-old recession has not only stripped away jobs, but employees' ability to access to employer-sponsored health insurance coverage as well.

Due to mounting job losses and the increased cost of insurance premiums, 9 million fewer Americans received health insurance coverage through their employers in 2003 than in 2001, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Studying Health System Change. The study's results indicate that Americans are being forced to turn from their employers to the government to help subsidize their health insurance needs.

"While the economic downturn reduced employment and accounted for much of the decline in employer coverage, the rapidly rising cost of health insurance, which increased about 28 percent between 2001 and 2003, likely contributed to the decline as well," said co-author of the study Bradley C. Strunk.

In total, the center surveyed 25,400 families and found that the ratio of Americans under the age of 65 that receive their coverage from their employers dropped 4 percent -- from 67 to 63 percent -- over the three years studied. The principal cause: a drop from 84.2 percent to 81.4 percent in the number of families with at least one employed worker, the study said.

The study also found that the ability to access employer-sponsored coverage through one's own or a family member's job dropped from 80.4 percent to 78.2 percent, as the soaring insurance premiums has caused employers to restrict access to or even eliminate health insurance programs altogether.

On the flip side, the study found than more Americans are finding relief through public programs like Medicaid and state-sponsored insurance programs for children.

"Clearly, public insurance expansions provided a safety net for millions of people-especially children-who otherwise probably would have lost coverage as the country moved through a recession and jobless recovery," said Paul B. Ginsburg, the center's president.