Florida's health care trend is just sickening

Tough news on the health care front — just as businesses start their enrollment season pitching worker health plan options for 2009.

Pay more. Get less. Again.

Soaring health premiums and thinner health plans are hardly new themes in Florida. But a new report confirms our sorry track record. Family health care premiums rose 3.6 times faster than earnings for Florida's workers from 2000 to 2007. The report from the consumer health care advocacy group Families USA found that over those seven years, family health care premiums in this state rose by 72 percent while median earnings gained only 20.2 percent.

The report — issued amid a struggling Florida economy, a volatile stock market, a so-far ill-fated federal financial bailout and just weeks before a presidential election — warns of a self-fulfilling scenario. As premiums rise, more of that higher price tag will fall on workers rather than employers. That weakens wages, forcing workers to choose less and less health care coverage.

"If this trend continues, the affordability crisis will get much worse, and more Floridians will become uninsured and underinsured," Families USA executive director Ron Pollack said Wednesday. "Floridians will face diminishing health and economic security."

It's not just insurance premiums. Substitute "gas prices" or "property insurance" or "milk" for the words "health care" and many Floridians end up at the same place. Spending more on basic needs with thinning paychecks.

Ask out-of-work Florida electrician Bowen Richards, who suffers from diabetes and has had some toes amputated. He told reporters Wednesday that his inability to get affordable coverage and more than $50,000 in unpaid medical bills are pushing him into bankruptcy. He plans to pay off his bankruptcy lawyer bill with some electrical work.

"Without insurance," he said, "if you don't feel good, you don't go to the doctor."

The Families USA report found that:

• For family health coverage provided through the workplace in Florida, annual health insurance premiums from 2000 to 2007 rose from $6,812 to $11,720 — an increase of $4,908, or 72 percent.

• In those seven years, the median earnings of Florida's workers increased from $22,753 to $27,353 — a gain of only $4,600, or 20.2 percent.

Prices for coverage are still soaring, says the 2008 employer health benefits survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research & Educational Trust.

This year, premiums for employer-sponsored health insurance rose nationally to $12,680 for family coverage. Employees paid an average $3,354 to cover their share.

But the scope of coverage has changed as more workers try to stretch a buck by enrolling in high-deductible plans.

"Health insurance is steadily becoming less comprehensive," said Kaiser CEO Drew Altman.

There is a silver lining. In the Families USA report, Florida's premium-vs.-paycheck numbers are less onerous than the national average. While Florida premiums rose 72 percent from 2000 to 2007, nationally they rose 78.3 percent. And though Florida's median earnings increased only 20.2 percent, nationally they climbed just 14.5 percent.

Okay, that's not exactly a silver lining. But it may qualify as one made of cheap cloth — with a high deductible.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at trigaux@sptimes.com.

Florida's health care trend is just sickening 10/01/08 [Last modified: Friday, October 3, 2008 7:22pm]

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