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Workers’ share of health care premiums jumps 14 percent as firms shift burden of cost

September 28th, 2010  |  Lucas Otto

Reflecting the fallout of a long national recession and rapidly rising health care costs, workers in 2010 on average are paying nearly $4,000 for their share of health care premiums, or an increase of 14 percent above what they paid last year, according to the benchmark 2010 Employer Health Benefits Survey released by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research & Educational Trust (HRET). This is the largest annual increase since the survey began in 1999, and a marked change from previous years when employers generally split the rise in the cost of premiums with their employees, the survey noted. In contrast, the amount employers contribute for family coverage did not increase.

“High out-of-pocket expenses and premiums affect health care decisions for patients. 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,” said Maulik Joshi, Dr.P.H., president of HRET and senior vice president for research at the American Hospital Association.

Other findings from the survey include:

  • Single coverage. Worker-only health benefits increased 5 percent in 2010 to reach $5,049 annually. Workers on average are paying $899 annually for single coverage, up from $779 in 2009. Forty-seven percent of covered workers are in single-coverage plans.
  • Physician office visits. Among covered workers with a copayment for in-network physician office visits, the average copayment increased a small but statistically significant amount from 2009 to 2010, from $20 to $22 for primary care and from $28 to $31 for specialty care.
  • Mental health benefits. In response to the 2008 Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, 31 percent of firms with more than 50 workers made changes to the mental health benefits they offer. Most of this group eliminated limits on coverage to comply with the law, though a small share (5 percent of those making changes) dropped mental health coverage altogether.
  • Wellness benefits. About three-fourths (74 percent) of employers offering health benefits offer 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.
  • Health risk assessments. Among firms offering coverage, 11 percent give their employees the option of completing a health risk assessment to help employees identify potential health risks. Within this group, 22 percent — a relatively small two percent of all employers — offer financial incentives such 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.

The survey was conducted between January and May of 2010 and included 3,143 randomly selected, non-federal public and private firms with three or more employees (2,046 of which responded to the full survey and 1,097 of which responded to a single question about offering coverage).