Sept. 17--American workers paid more for health insurance in 2012 than they did in 2011, but the increase was not as dramatic as previous years, according to an annual survey released by the Kaiser Family Foundation last week.
A family with employer-provided insurance now pays close to $16,000 in annual premiums, about 4 percent more than a year ago, according to the survey of employer health benefits. Individual policies rose 3 percent to an average of $5,615, the study said. However, in upstate New York, premiums are about 15 percent lower than these national figures.
The forecast for next year predicts that employers will continue to shift costs to workers.
The 2012 increase is modest compared to the increases documented by the survey in 2004 (a 10 percent increase) and 2003 (a 13 percent increase).
"In terms of employee insurance costs, this year's 4 percent increase qualifies as a good year, but it still takes a growing bite out of middle-class workers' wages, which have been flat or falling in real terms," said Drew Altman, Kaiser president and CEO, in a statement.
Since 2002, health insurance premiums have increased 97 percent, three times as fast as wages (33 percent) and inflation (28 percent), according to Kaiser.
Health care analysts attribute 2012's modest growth to a combination of factors that typically make people avoid health care visits: high-deductible plans, higher cost-sharing schemes and stagnant wages.
Half of all workers on individual plans have a high deductible of $1,000 or more, compared to 16 percent in 2006, according to the Kaiser report.
Employers "have been changing their plans and putting more of an onus on employees to have skin in the game," said Thomas Flynn, a principal with Mercer, a human resources consulting firm. "At almost every step, an employee has a cost-based and a quality-based decision."
Lower drug costs also helped control health spending in 2012, Flynn said. Many major drugs came off patent and now have generic versions. Instead of accounting for 25 percent of an employer's health spending, prescriptions were less than 10 percent, he said. Workers at companies that pay lower wages were hit hardest with out-of-pocket costs, according to the Kaiser survey.
Those workers paid, on average, $1,000 more a year.
"Firms with many lower-wage workers ask employees to pay more out-of-pocket than firms with many higher-wage workers, even though the coverage itself tends to be less comprehensive," said the study's lead author Gary Claxton, director of the Foundation's Health Care Marketplace Project, in a statement.
Next year does not look better for the American worker.
About 58 percent of employers said they plan to shift more costs to employees to keep their 2013 costs down, according to preliminary responses to an annual survey done by Mercer. The Mercer report predicts that premiums will rise 6.5 percent in 2013.
Mercer is advising its clients to offer employees a range of insurance plans, including high-deductible plans that have low premiums, said Flynn, who is based in upstate New York.
Mercer encourages the companies to put seed money into health savings accounts or health reimbursement accounts that help employees offset the risk they take by signing up for high-deductible plans, he said.
"This is a year that we've seen people are looking at that with renewed interest," Flynn said.
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By the numbers
The Kaiser Family Foundation's annual survey of employer health benefits found:
$5,615 annual premium for individuals
$15,745 annual premium for family coverage
$23 average co-pay for primary care visits
$118 average co-pay for emergency room visits
$51 co-pay non-preferred brand-name drugs
49 percent of workers on individual plans have high-deductible plans
Source: "Employer Health Benefits 2012 Annual Survey," Kaiser Family Foundation
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