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Worker Contributions to U.S. Health Premiums Jump 14%, Kaiser Survey Says

American workers will pay about $4,000 to get health insurance for their families through work this year, 14 percent more than in 2009, according to a survey today from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Employees’ average share of premium costs for family coverage is $482 more than last year as economic conditions push companies to pay less of the bill, the report said. Total premiums for family policies, including both worker and employer contributions, increased 3 percent to $13,770.

Reducing health care costs was a promise of the health care overhaul law signed in March by U.S. President Barack Obama. That would require reversing a five-year trend. Health insurance premium increases have outpaced inflation and wage growth every year since 2005, according to the annual survey by the Menlo Park, California-based foundation.

“Businesses have been shifting more of the costs of health insurance to workers through premiums, deductibles and other cost-sharing,” said Drew Altman, Kaiser Family Foundation Chief Executive Officer, in a statement. “From a consumer perspective, the cost of health insurance just keeps going up faster than wages.”

Since 2005, workers’ contributions have increased 47 percent as overall premiums -- the cost of the employer contribution plus workers’ -- have gone up 27 percent, according to the Kaiser report. Wages have increased 18 percent and inflation rose 12 percent over that period, the report said.

Photographer: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Employees’ average share of premium costs for family coverage is $482 more than last year. Close

Employees’ average share of premium costs for family coverage is $482 more than last year.

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Photographer: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Employees’ average share of premium costs for family coverage is $482 more than last year.

Premiums Increase

Total health insurance premiums for single workers increased $225 to $5,049 this year, 5 percent higher than in 2009. Of that total, workers will contribute $120 more than they did last year, or 15 percent more, according to the report.

The health overhaul contains a provision to help states review premium increases, and another to limit how much insurers spend on profits and administrative costs -- both to try and give consumers value for what they spend on coverage.

Even as workers pay more for their health insurance, they’re getting less coverage for their money. In 2010, 27 percent of employees had deductibles of at least $1,000 before coverage kicks in. Last year, only 22 percent of workers had such a requirement for the plans they get through work, according to the survey. Such cost-sharing strategies are meant to get consumers to use fewer health resources by making them more aware of the price.

‘Less For More’

“What insurance is in this country is gradually changing. It’s becoming less comprehensive. It looks less and less like the comprehensive coverage their parents got,” Altman said on a conference call discussing the study. “From the perspective of working people, they’re getting less for more.”

Large employers with more than 200 workers are driving the trend toward employees paying a larger share, Gary Claxton, a vice president at the Kaiser Foundation who co-wrote the study, said on the conference call. The economic decline has put pressure on companies to reduce overall costs, which in the case of health insurance can mean passing along some expenses to employees.

“We’re seeing that the continued economic downturn is leading to more burden for employees,” Claxton said.

Obama’s health care overhaul will eventually drive down costs, said Claxton. “We don’t know how quickly that might happen,” he said during the conference call. “At least in the early years, I’m not sure health reform is going to mean that workers are going to face lower contribution amounts,” he said.

Health Care Law

This year’s survey didn’t take in any of the effects of the health care law, Altman said on the conference call. Because the survey of employers was done from January through May and examined plan costs that were mostly decided in late 2009, the law’s spring enactment wouldn’t be revealed in the figures.

“The study only highlights the importance of implementing health reform,” said Nick Papas, spokesman for the White House Office of Health Reform. “The new law will take us in the right direction and make care more affordable for workers and employers,” he said in an e-mail.

A study by the RAND Corporation, also released on Thursday, predicted that the health law would lead to 13.2 million more people getting coverage through work. Most of those will be from small businesses, according to the study by the Santa Monica, California-based research organization.

To contact the reporter on this story: Drew Armstrong in Washington at darmstrong17@bloomberg.net;

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