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Workers pay more for health care as companies shift burden, survey finds

Published Sep. 15, 2016

State health insurance exchanges created under the new health care law are in turmoil. By contrast, the employer market — where the majority of Americans still get their coverage — seems like a bastion of stability.

An analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation released Wednesday shows that the share of employers offering coverage remained steady this year, and that the cost of premiums for health plans remained largely unchanged.

"We see historic moderation in premiums and health spending and costs," said Drew Altman, chief executive of the Kaiser foundation, a nonprofit in Menlo Park, Calif., that closely tracks the health insurance markets.

But underneath some of those figures, some important changes are under way. The biggest shift is that workers continue to pay an ever-greater share of their medical bills. That is why Altman said that despite the overall moderation in costs, "it doesn't feel that way to average people."

Kaiser's annual survey represents a snapshot of the coverage companies offer their workers. About 150 million people are covered by an employer, far more than the 11 million or so who buy coverage on the exchanges created under the federal health care law.

Annual family premiums rose an average of 3 percent to $18,142 a year, according to Kaiser, which surveyed some 1,900 employers.

This continued a significant slowdown in price increases. Since 2011, premiums for plans covering a family rose 20 percent, compared with 31 percent from 2006 to 2011, and 63 percent from 2001 to 2006.

While employer-sponsored plans typically have much lower deductibles than the most popular plans on the exchanges, more employees have deductibles, and they are increasing. Overall, employee deductibles are about 50 percent higher than they were five years ago.

Workers are also paying a greater share of the premiums, contributing $5,277 annually toward a family plan, nearly a third of the total cost.