HEALTH

Cost of health care on the rise

BY Michael Johnsen

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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ASHP: Healthcare teams with pharmacists improve patient care

BY Allison Cerra

BETHESDA, Md. A new study funded by the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists underscored the role healthcare-team pharmacists have in improving health care in the United States.

The study, “US Pharmacists’ Effect as Team Members on Patient Care: Systematic Review and Meta-Analyses,” available online and set to be published in the October edition of Medical Care, examined the effect of pharmacist-provided direct patient care on therapeutic, safety and humanistic outcomes. The study, led by Marie Chisholm-Burns, a professor and department head at the University of Arizona College of Pharmacy, reviewed nearly 300 articles and found that:

  • Patients were 47% less likely to experience an adverse drug event when a pharmacist was involved in their care;
  • Pharmacist interventions also significantly improved outcomes when pharmacists were involved in disease management, particularly for patients with diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol; and
  • Nearly 90% of studies tracking pharmacists’ impact on managing hemoglobian A1c showed favorable results; 84% of the studies focused on managing blood pressure; 82% of studies looking at managing high cholesterol showed favorable results.

“We have to get this message out to the public,” Chisholm-Burns said. “It’s so important for patients to understand how pharmacists can help them manage their chronic diseases and be as healthy as possible.”

Additional findings highlighting pharmacists’ impact on economic outcomes will be published in October in the American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy.

“This important study clearly demonstrates the valuable role pharmacists play in patient care,” said ASHP CEO Henri Manasse, Jr. “The findings are particularly relevant as policy-makers begin to implement innovative care models included in the new healthcare-reform law, like the medical home model, where patients can benefit from the medication expertise of pharmacists.”

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Sensa products to hit GNC shelves

BY Michael Johnsen

MANHATTAN BEACH, Calif. Sensa Products on Wednesday announced the launch of its Sensa weight-loss system through GNC, marking the first time Sensa will be available at retail.

“GNC has consistently been at the forefront of the nutrition and weight-loss industry,” stated Don Ressler, CEO of Sensa Products. “With its commitment to quality products and customer service, GNC is the perfect retail partner for Sensa.”

Added Tasso Koken, GNC’s EVP merchandising, “Sensa’s clinical studies are an important addition to the weight-loss segment. We look forward to working with Sensa to broaden the market for these innovative products. GNC has traditionally been a leader in diet supplement products, and this national retail launch of the Sensa line will certainly continue that tradition.”

GNC will launch the 60-day Sensa kit in stores and the entire Sensa product line will be available on GNC.com.

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