Employers bear brunt of health insurance hikes

@CNNMoney September 27, 2011: 12:18 PM ET
Family health insurance cost soars 9%

Family health insurance costs rose 9% this year, according to Kaiser Family Foundation.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Thank you, boss?: While the annual cost for employee family health insurance jumped 9% this year, employers shouldered the bulk of that increase, according to a new industry survey Tuesday.

For insured workers, it cost $15,073 this year to buy health insurance for a family of four. That was up sharply from $13,770 last year, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation report.

But the good news for these employees is that their share of the total cost rose a little more than 3% to $4,129 while their boss' share jumped 12% to $10,944.

The report also showed that premiums for family coverage rose much faster than both general inflation and workers' wages.

That's what makes this year's 9% increase in premiums "especially painful for workers and employers struggling through a weak recovery," said Drew Altman, Kaiser president and CEO.

"It's also one of the largest premium increases we've seen since we've done this survey," he said. "I don't know if this is a one-term hike or whether it signals a return of sustained increases in premiums."

Based on the survey, Altman said he can't say why health insurance premiums spiked this year. One reason could be health reform, but he said that only was a marginal factor.

This year, some employers adjusted their health benefit programs to account for new provisions that kicked in as a result of health care reform.

The Kaiser survey showed that two key provisions -- allowing workers to add uninsured adult dependents up to age 26 on their parents' plan and free preventive care -- contributed only 1 to 2 percentage points to the overall rise in family premiums.

Although the survey estimates that employers added 2.3 million young adults to family insurance policies this year, the group said it's still too early to determine the impact that health reform is having on insurance costs.

"The law is helping millions of young adults to obtain health coverage. In the past, many of these young adults would have lost coverage when they left home or graduated college," said Gary Claxton, lead author of the report.

America's Health Insurance Plans, which represents insurers, offered its own explanation for why premiums climbed this year.

"Policymakers in Washington and the states need to focus on all of the factors that are driving premium increases: soaring prices for medical services, changes in the covered population that has resulted in an older and sicker risk pool, and new coverage mandates that add to the cost of insurance," Karen Ignagni, AHIP president, said in a statement Tuesday.

For employee-only health coverage, the survey showed workers shelled out more in premiums this year, $921, up 8% from 2010.

In other findings, the survey showed that more employees are opting for high deductible-low premium plans such as health savings accounts, which allow a tax-preferred savings option.

The 13th annual Kaiser survey was conducted between January and May 2011, and polled 3,184 small and large employers nationwide that employ three or more workers. To top of page

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