NEW YORK (CNN/Money) – The good news: The growth rate in the cost of employer-sponsored health insurance plan premiums declined for the second year in a row and ended four consecutive years of double-digit growth rates.
The bad news: The premium growth rate this year – 9.2 percent – outpaced by miles both the growth in wages (2.7 percent) and inflation (3.5 percent), according to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey released Wednesday.
For people whose premiums are deducted from their paychecks, that means less take home each week.
The survey, which focused on employer-sponsored health insurance plans, noted that since 2000 premiums for family coverage have gone up 73 percent. During the same period, wages rose just 15 percent.
Today, the average cost of annual premiums for family coverage is now $10,880, topping the $10,712 in gross earnings a full-time minimum wage worker would make.
Workers' share...As an employee, of course, you wouldn't pay the full $10,880. Your portion of the bill is about 26 percent, which is on par with what it has been in the past few years.
Those paying for single coverage – -- which cost an average of $4,024 this year -- also paid about the same share as they have in recent years (16 percent).
How much workers are paying...As workers' share of premiums has stayed steady, the amount they're paying in dollars has of course risen. Kaiser reports that workers paid an average of $2,713 for family coverage this year – or $1,094 more on average than they did five years ago. Workers opting for single coverage paid an average of $610, up $108 from 2003.
Of course, an increased bill may be preferable to not having health coverage at all. That's a problem for full-time workers at small companies.
More going without coverage...Sixty-percent of all companies surveyed by Kaiser said they provide workers with health coverage, which is about the same number as last year. But it's down significantly from 2000, when 69 percent of employers said they offered health plans.
The decline is due mostly to fewer small businesses offering plans, Kaiser said. Ninety-eight percent of companies employing at least 200 workers said they offer health plans – a number that has held steady since 1996. But only 59 percent of small businesses said they offer them, down from 68 percent five years ago. The No. 1 deterrent cited by the small businesses was premium cost.
Other costs...For many who do have coverage, the premium is not their only cost. There are deductibles and co-payments. In the most common type of plan – preferred provider organization (PPO) plans -- the average deductible for in-network services was $323 for single coverage and $679 for family coverage.
Co-payments are also required of a majority of covered workers. Forty-four percent of them have plans requiring co-payments of $20 or $25 for physician visits and prescription drugs. Covered workers in multi-tiered drug plans paid an average of $10 for generic drugs, $22 for preferred drugs and $35 for non-preferred drugs.
As 2005 approaches its last quarter, the obvious question is what's going to happen to worker healthcare costs next year?
More than 40 percent of large firms told Kaiser they are "very likely" to ask workers to pay more in premiums, but only 15 percent of smaller firms said they would.
Meanwhile, only 8 percent of firms said they are "very likely" to raise deductibles, while only 7 percent said they would likely raise co-payments for office visits or prescription drugs.