The cost of family health coverage in the U.S. now tops $20,000, an annual survey of employers found, a record high that has pushed an increasing number of American workers into plans that cover less or cost more, or force them out of the insurance market entirely.
“It’s as much as buying a basic economy car,” said Drew Altman, chief executive officer of the Kaiser Family Foundation, “but buying it every year.”
While employers pay most of the costs of coverage, according to the survey, workers’ average contribution is now $6,000 for a family plan. That’s just their share of upfront premiums, and doesn’t include co-payments, deductibles and other forms of cost-sharing once they need care.
The seemingly inexorable rise of costs has led to deep frustration with U.S. health care, prompting questions about whether a system where coverage is tied to a job can survive. As premiums and deductibles have increased in the last two decades, the percentage of workers covered has slipped as employers dropped coverage and some workers chose not to enroll. Fewer Americans under 65 had employer coverage in 2017 than in 1999, according to a separate Kaiser Family Foundation analysis of federal data. That’s despite the fact that the U.S. economy employed 17 million more people in 2017 than in 1999.
“What we’ve been seeing is a slow, slow kind of drip-drip erosion in employer coverage,” Altman said.
Employees’ costs for health care are rising more quickly than wages or overall economy-wide prices, and the working poor have been particularly hard-hit. In firms where more than 35% of employees earn less than $25,000 a year, workers would have to contribute more than $7,000 for a family health plan. It’s an expense that Altman calls “just flat-out not affordable.” Only one-third of employees at such firms are on their employer’s health plans, compared with 63% at higher-wage firms, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s data.
The survey is based on responses from more than 2,000 randomly selected employers with at least three workers, including private firms and non-federal public employers.
Deductibles are rising even faster than premiums, meaning that patients are on the hook for more of their medical costs upfront. For a single person, the average deductible in 2019 was $1,396, up from $533 in 2009. A typical household with employer health coverage spends about $800 a year in out-of-pocket costs, not counting premiums, according to research from the Commonwealth Fund. At the high end of the range, those costs can top $5,000 a year.
After years of pushing health-care costs onto workers, some employers are pressing pause. Delta Air Lines Inc. recently froze employees’ contributions to premiums for two years, Chief Executive Officer Ed Bastian said in an interview at Bloomberg’s headquarters in New York last week.
“We said we’re not going to raise them. We’re going to absorb the cost because we need to make certain people know that their benefits structure is real important,” Bastian said. He said the company’s health-care costs are growing by double-digits. The Atlanta-based company has more than 80,000 employees around the globe.
And on that note… marijuana use appears to be up.
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