Group Health Insurance Premiums up 97% Since 2002

The cost for workplace-based family health insurance rose by 4% in 2012, while wages climbed a mere 1.7%, according to a national survey of businesses released this week.

The disparity between employer-sponsored coverage and salaries was even more dramatic when studied over a 10-year period, says a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation/Health Research & Educational Trust (HRET).. Since 2002, premiums have leaped by 97%, far out-pacing the 33% growth in wages and the inflation rate of 38%. (See: "Take care or pay a higher share of your insurance costs.")

The 4% increase this year also eclipsed inflation, which grew by 2.3% from 2011.The annual cost for family health coverage was $15,745 in 2012, with workers paying an average of $4,316 in premiums, according to Kaiser/HRET. (See: "Open enrollment: 5 tips for selecting the best benefits.")

For employee-only insurance, employers spent $5,615 annually, a jump of 3%. Employees contributed $951.

Drew Altman, the president and CEO of the Kaiser Family Foundation, described this year's family premium rise as "moderate." He added that it was significantly lower than the 9% hike in 2011.

"In terms of employee insurance costs, this year's 4% 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," Altman said. (See: "5 things you don't know about group health insurance.")

Kaiser: lower-wage earners pay more for health insurance

"This year's survey suggests that working families at the low end of the wage scale face significant out-of-pocket costs for coverage," said Gary Claxton, a Kaiser vice president and director of the foundation's Health Care Marketplace Project. "Firms with many lower-wage workers ask employees to pay more out of pocket than firms with many higher-wage workers."

Specifically, workers at lower-wage firms pay about $1,000 more from their salaries each year for family coverage than workers at higher-wage firms. That means, on average, lower earners spend $4,977 for medical insurance while higher earners pay $3,968, according to Kaiser/HRET. "This occurs even though the firms with many lower-wage workers on average pay less in total premiums for family coverage than firms with many higher-wage workers, $14,694 and $16,427, respectively," the survey states.

The annual Kaiser/HRET survey, now in its 14th year, gathered information from more than 2,000 small and large employers between January and May. Other major findings include:

  • About 2.9 million young adults are currently covered by employer plans this year because of a 2010 health reform provision allowing sons and daughters up to age 26 without their own employer coverage to be included as dependents on their parents' insurance.
  • 61% of firms offer health benefits to their workers, which is about the same as last year.
  • Covered workers facing co-payments for in-network doctor office visits pay about $23 for primary care and $33 for specialty care. For emergency-room visits, average co-pays are $118. Average co-pays for prescription drugs are $10 for generics; $29 for preferred brand-name drugs; $51 for non-preferred brand-names; and $79 for specialty drugs.
  • 31% of employers offer health benefits to same-sex domestic partners in 2012, up from 21% three years earlier. This year 37% of firms offer such benefits to unmarried opposite-sex partners, up from 31% in 2009.

Government findings for health insurance

The U.S. Census Bureau also released a far-reaching report this week which adds more details to the nation's health insurance picture.

Census statistics show that there was a slight drop in the number of people without medical coverage of any kind in 2011. While 50 million people went without insurance in 2011, the figure declined to 48.6 million in 2011, as did the percentage without coverage -- from 16.3% in 2010 to 15.7% in 2011. Those with medical coverage climbed to 260.2 million in 2011 from 256.6 million in 2010; that breaks down to 84.3% of the population with insurance in 2011, contrasted with 83.7% the previous year.

Other key points from the U.S. Census Bureau:

  • The nation's official poverty rate in 2011 was 15%, with about 46.2 million people in poverty (on average, under $23,021 annual income for a family of four), compared to about 46.3 million (15.1%) the previous year. "After three straight years of increases, neither the poverty rate nor the number of people in poverty were statistically different from the 2010 estimates," according to the report.
  • In 2011, real median household income in the United States was $50,054, a 1.5% decline from 2010's $50,831 and the second consecutive annual drop.

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