SACRAMENTO -- Far fewer Californians are getting health insurance through their employers compared to a decade ago, a change that comes as the nation is about to undergo major reforms in the health care system, according to a report released Wednesday.

The report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which funds health research and programs, found that the number of Californians receiving employer-sponsored insurance dropped by 1.3 million, or 8.4 percent, over the past decade.

There were 18.9 million people, or 62 percent of the nonelderly population, with employer-sponsored health insurance in 2000. In 2011, that had dropped to 17.6 million, or 53 percent of California's nonelderly population, according to data prepared by the State Health Access Data Assistance Center, an independent health policy research center at the University of Minnesota.

Researchers say many factors contributed to the decline, including decreases in overall employment and rising insurance premium costs. Seniors were excluded because they have insurance through Medicare.

The drop in California mirrors a national decline. The data showed just 60 percent of Americans received coverage through a job in 2011. That's 11.5 million fewer people than in 2000.

Meanwhile, the cost of health insurance is rising. The average annual employer-sponsored insurance premium for family coverage in California has more than doubled from $6,033 in 2000 to $14,828 in 2011. The average annual health insurance premium for single coverage has jumped from $2,259 to $5,033.


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The foundation noted that costs for employers and employees have increased dramatically.

"Higher costs naturally translate into fewer employers offering insurance coverage, and fewer employees accepting it, even when it is offered," said Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president and chief executive of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, in a statement. "That is why it is so important that people have options for purchasing affordable health insurance that meets their needs."

Under the Affordable Care Act, uninsured middle-class Americans will be able to sign up for subsidized private health plans through new insurance markets in their states beginning Oct. 1, with coverage starting in 2014. Low-income uninsured people will be steered to safety net programs such as Medicaid.

The report notes that even with the federal health care changes, employer-sponsored insurance will continue to be a major source of coverage.

In part because of the large role of agriculture and tourism in its labor force, California has a lower rate of employer-sponsored coverage and one of the nation's highest rates of uninsured residents, said Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California, a group that lobbies for health care for the poor.

"The fact that we had less of a decline may simply be because we're starting from a lower place already," he said.

Wright said new insurance rules and market changes are intended to stop the decline in employer-sponsored coverage. For example, small businesses will receive tax credits as an incentive to provide health coverage, people with pre-existing conditions will not be denied access to care and some middle-class Americans will get help paying for health insurance.

"The hope is that the Affordable Care Act stabilizes employer-based coverage and provides an option and an alternative for those who don't get coverage on the job," he said.