Expect less health coverage, at a higher cost, in 2009

Most workers will see "skimpier and less comprehensive" employer-based health insurance coverage next year, according to an outlook released recently. Drew Altman, chief executive of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, said moderate increases in employers' health care benefits costs — an 8 percent average increase expected — obscured the true effect on employees.

"There is a notable growth in high-deductible health plans," Altman said in releasing the annual "Survey of Employer Health Benefits." "Many working people will have higher out-of-pocket costs."

Kaiser and the Health Research & Educational Trust collaborated on a survey that shows the long-term trend of escalating health benefits costs continues to outpace growth in average workers' wages.

Since 1999, the average annual employee contribution for family coverage premiums increased from $1,543 to $3,354, and the average employer contribution for such coverage increased from $4,247 to $9,325.

Over that time, overall inflation has been 29 percent, average workers' earnings have gone up 35 percent, and the cost of health insurance premiums has gone up 119 percent. "Premiums are increasing 3 1/2 times faster than wage growth."

In a conference call with reporters, Altman said the more rapid rise in premiums means "people are feeling the pain on top of all the other economic problems today."

Megan McHugh, the research director for the trust, said the trend toward higher deductibles, coupled with a continued rise in prescription drug prices, was most affecting low-wage workers, who are least likely to have employer-sponsored health benefits or who must pay a higher out-of-pocket percentage for their health care.

Also affected are employees of small companies (those with fewer than 200 employees) who are likely to have less comprehensive benefit plans or are more likely to be moved into consumer-directed health plans.

Researchers said there were clear differences between health coverage provided in small and larger companies, with a larger percentage of workers in small companies being enrolled in high-deductible plans.

Expect less health coverage, at a higher cost, in 2009 10/31/08 [Last modified: Sunday, November 2, 2008 3:11pm]

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