News Column

Health-care Costs Still Outpace Wages, Inflation

August 21, 2013

Ben Sutherly

health care costs

The cost of health insurance for employers and their workers is climbing more slowly, but it's still inching closer to a day of reckoning.

The cost of premiums for individual coverage through an employer rose 5 percent in 2013 from the previous year; the increase was 4 percent for family coverage, according to a survey released yesterday by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research & Educational Trust.

Those increases are far from the double-digit premium hikes of a decade ago. That might be due in part to the recent recession, but the slowing development of new imaging technology and pharmaceuticals, greater provider efficiency and more consumer responsibility in paying for health care also have played a role, said Amy Rohling McGee, president of the Health Policy Institute of Ohio.

But the rising cost of health care continues to outpace wages, which rose 1.8 percent, and inflation, which increased by 1.1 percent.

"We continue to demand it even though the price is going up relative to other things," said Gary Claxton, Kaiser vice president. "We can't have it go up forever."

The average annual premium for employer-sponsored health insurance now stands at $5,884 for single coverage and $16,351 for family coverage.

Of that $16,351, $11,786 on average is paid by the employer and $4,565 is paid by the worker. The employee's share of total health care costs has risen 89 percent since 2003, on average, while the employer's share has grown 77 percent overall.

The higher costs for workers also are reflected in their deductibles. Among all companies, 38 percent of covered workers now have an annual deductible of at least $1,000 for single coverage, up from 34 percent last year. And 15 percent of covered workers now have a deductible of at least $2,000 for single coverage, up slightly from 14 percent in 2012.

While the unfolding Affordable Care Act might influence small businesses' costs because they'll be able to shop for coverage through new government-run online marketplaces, most larger employers are partially or completely self-funded, and thus exempt from many of the law's requirements, Claxton said.

But Claxton noted that the survey found that 9 percent of large businesses with at least 200 workers -- and 29 percent of those with 5,000 or more workers -- are considering offering health benefits through a privately run marketplace, or exchange, in the future.

That would help employers define how much they're willing to spend on health care -- they would give workers a set amount of money that they could use to shop for coverage -- and could create more incentives for their workers to get their care from lower-cost providers.

"The potential is for employers to move a little bit away from running their own programs," Claxton said.

Other survey findings:

--Six percent of companies that currently are fully insured intend to become self-funded to avoid some requirements of the Affordable Care Act.

--Among employers with 50 to 199 employees, 91 percent currently offer health benefits. Beginning in 2015, all companies with the equivalent of 50 full-time workers will have to offer such benefits or face a fine.

While much attention in Ohio has focused on what the 7 percent of Ohioans younger than 65 will pay next year for coverage purchased directly from health insurers, far more Ohioans get coverage through their employer, said McGee of the Health Policy Institute.

In 2014, about 55 percent of Ohioans younger than 65 are expected to get their insurance through an employer, according to a state-commissioned estimate.

bsutherly@dispatch.com

@BenSutherly

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(c)2013 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)

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