USA TODAY US Edition
Workers’ health care share averages about $1,500
Premiums paid by workers covered by their companies’ health plans have risen only modestly over the past five years, but workers who get sick still face higher deductibles that affect far more people, a survey out Wednesday shows.
More than 80% of employees have to pay an average of $1,478 before their health insurance covers the bulk of the cost for health care — up from slightly more than half of workers in 2006, says the survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research and Educational Trust.
Despite the slowing in premium growth, these monthly insurance payments have increased four times faster than income since 1999, the survey showed. The Census Bureau reported Tuesday that the typical U.S. household’s income increased about 5% in 2015 after barely budging in the eight years since the start of the Great Recession.
The new normal in employerprovided insurance can be hard for many to accept. If you tell a typical consumer there has been a “historical moderation in health care costs, they will look at you sideways,” says Drew Altman, CEO of the Kaiser Family Foundation. “We’re in a period of a slow revolution to skimpier, less comprehensive coverage that’s been happening gradually with no national debate.”
That’s certainly true of high deductible plans, which are more or less popular depending on your situation — and budget. “As a sweeping conclusion, when faced with a high deductible and a low premium, then people like them,” health economist Mark Pauly says. “But they hate them when they have a claim.”
The challenge comes when employees aren’t given a choice and the plans don’t make sense for the workers because of other factors, says Pauly, a professor at the Wharton School at the Uni- versity of Pennsylvania. Pauly questions whether high-deductible plans should be offered to people below a certain income on the Affordable Care Act exchanges, where the higher-deductible bronze and silver plans are the ones most favored.
Far fewer people were in poverty last year, according to the new Census Bureau report, as 2.4 million more people found permanent full-time jobs. Still, it is low-income workers who are most likely to opt out of employer-provided insurance and to postpone care that they have to pay out of pocket for, Pauly says.
The “real danger” surrounding the increase in high-deductible plans is when lower-income people put off care and get sicker because they can’t afford it, Altman says.
Though the ACA tends to get the blame for changes in employer-provided insurance, Altman says he doesn’t think the amount and prevalence of deductibles — or higher costs borne by workers — are related to the law. Pauly says the ACA has probably influenced employers’ decisions to shift to higher-deductibles plans. “If government thinks they’re a good idea, why shouldn’t they?” Pauly says.
Employers favor high-deductible health plans coupled with health savings accounts that workers and employers can contribute pre-tax dollars to, the survey found. Health care attorney Nancy Taylor, who represents many large employers, says companies are increasingly rewarding people for participating in wellness screenings and contributing money into their HSAs.
“We’re in a period of a slow revolution to skimpier, less comprehensive coverage.” Drew Altman, Kaiser Family Foundation Premiums show only gradual increase, but more people face high deductibles