Cost of health care on the rise

WASHINGTON Workers on average are paying nearly $4,000 this year toward the cost of family health coverage — an increase of 14%, or $482, above what they paid last year, according to the benchmark "2010 Employer Health Benefits Survey" released Thursday by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research and Educational Trust.

The jump occurred even though the total premiums for family coverage, including what employers themselves contribute, rose a modest 3% to $13,770 on average in 2010, the survey found. In contrast, the amount employers contributed for family coverage did not increase.

 

Since 2005, workers’ contributions to premiums have gone up 47%, while overall premiums rose 27%, wages increased 18% and inflation rose 12%.

 

 

Many employers also are raising the annual deductibles workers must pay before their health plans begin to share most healthcare costs. A total of 27% of covered workers now face annual deductibles of at least $1,000, up from 22% in 2009, the survey found. Among small firms (three to 199 workers), 46% face such deductibles.

 

 

“With the economy struggling, businesses have been shifting more of the costs of health insurance to workers through premiums, deductibles and other cost-sharing,” Kaiser president and CEO Drew Altman stated. “This may be helping to stem the rapid rise in premiums that we saw in the early 2000s, but it also means employer coverage is less comprehensive. From a consumer perspective, the cost of health insurance just keeps going up faster than wages.”

 

 

“High out-of-pocket expenses and premiums affect healthcare decisions for patients," added Maulik Joshi, president of the Health Research and Educational Trust and SVP research at the American Hospital Association. "If premiums and costs continue to be shifted to consumers, households will face difficult choices, like forgoing needed care, or reexamining how they can best care for their families,”

 

 

The nation’s recession contributed to the shift in burden to workers. In response to the economic downturn, 30% of employers said they reduced the scope of health benefits or increased cost sharing, and 23% reported increasing the amount employees pay for coverage, the survey found.

 

 

Among other plan types, only such consumer-driven plans as a health savings account, which allows for the reimbursable purchase of over-the-counter medicines in addition to prescriptions and other healthcare services, saw growth in their market share. Such plans now enroll 13% of covered workers, up from 8% last year.

 

 

“Consumer-driven plans have clearly established a foothold in the employer market, tripling their market share from 4% in 2006 to 13% today,” said study lead author Gary Claxton, a Kaiser VP and director of the Healthcare Marketplace Project.

 

 

About three-fourths (74%) of employers offering health benefits offered at least one of the following wellness programs: weight-loss program; gym membership discounts or on-site exercise facilities; smoking-cessation program; personal health coaching; classes in nutrition or healthy living; Web-based resources for healthy living; or a wellness newsletter.

 

Also among firms offering coverage, 11% gave their employees the option of completing a health risk assessment to help employees identify potential health risks. Within this group, 22% (2% of all employers) offer such financial incentives as lowering the worker’s share of premiums or offering merchandise, gift cards, travel or cash to their workers. Large firms are more likely than small firms both to offer assessments and to offer financial incentives.

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