Study: U.S. Workers’ Health Costs Double Over Decade

By | September 15, 2009

U.S. workers who have health insurance for their families through employers have seen premiums more than double in the last decade, according to a survey released on Tuesday.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the average premium for a company-provided family health insurance plan rose from $5,791 in 1999 to $13,375, a 131 percent jump.

Employees’ portion of those costs have risen accordingly, from $1,543 on average a decade ago to $3,515 this year.

Employers, too, have see their costs shoot up from $4,247 in contributions in 1999 to $9,860 in 2009 on average.

“The fact that premiums keep going up in any particular year — it’s not always a lot, but over time it really does add up,” said Kaiser Vice President Gary Claxton, who led the study.

The survey is based on information that Kaiser, along with the Health Research and Educational Trust, collected earlier this year from more than 2,000 public and private companies with at least three workers.

The findings come as Democratic lawmakers push their health reform plan, which President Barack Obama has said will build on the nation’s current model in which most people under the age of 65 who have health insurance get it through their employers.

Overall the study found no big changes from 2008 among companies that offer coverage. But Claxton said the survey misses one big issue: it cannot account for the number of employees who lost their coverage because they were fired or their company went out of business.

Additionally, because many companies had already made coverage decisions before the start of 2009, they may not have fully realized the impact of the U.S. recession and made changes after they were surveyed.

“It’s not clear that we got the whole picture,” Claxton told Reuters in an interview.

In fact, among those companies still offering health plans, 21 percent said they had reduced benefits or asked workers to pay additional costs while 15 percent said they had increased workers’ share of the insurance premium.

For 2010, companies said they also would shift more costs to workers, with 42 percent saying they would increase employees’ premiums and 39 percent saying employees would pay more for doctor visits. Thirty-seven percent said workers would have to pay more for prescription medicines.

“When health care costs continue to rise so much faster than overall inflation in a bad recession, workers and employers really feel the pain. That’s why we are having a health reform debate,” said Drew Altman, president and CEO of Kaiser. (Reporting by Susan Heavey, editing by Dave Zimmerman)

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