Rising insurance cost puts coverage out of reach for many small companies

first_imgThe increasing cost of health insurance is putting coverage out of reach for many small to midsize companies and their workers, even though the rise in premiums this year was the lowest increase in eight years. Since 2001, the cost of premiums has gone up 78 percent, far outpacing a 19 percent increase in wages and 17 percent jump in inflation, according to a survey released Tuesday by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a health care research group that annually tracks the cost of health insurance. This year, the cost of premiums paid by workers and their employers was up 6.1 percent, while wages rose an average of 3.7 percent and inflation went up 2.6 percent, the survey said. Kaiser estimates that between 1 million and 2 million people join the ranks of the uninsured every year. “There’s no scientific tipping point that you can point to at which health insurance becomes unaffordable,” said Drew Altman, the foundation’s president and CEO. “But it does seem like we’ve crossed a threshold where health insurance is increasingly unaffordable for medium-sized employers, particularly smaller employers and average people this year.” Insurance costs probably will rise again next year, according to the survey. Many of the more than 3,000 companies surveyed said they planned to make significant changes to their health plans and benefits, and nearly half said they were very or somewhat likely to raise premiums. This year, premiums averaged $12,106 for a family of four, with workers paying, on average, $3,281 of that. Premiums to cover a single person cost $4,479, with employees paying $694. Families typically pay 28 percent of their premiums, while single people pay 16 percent, the survey said, and those proportions have been stable. But the amount workers have been paying has nearly doubled since 2001. This year, monthly contributions averaged $273 for families and $58 for single workers. The companies surveyed reported that premiums for families increased 6.1 percent, on average. That’s the lowest growth rate since 1999, when premiums rose 5.3 percent and cost an average of $2,196 for individuals and $5,791 for families. Health care premiums rose 7.7 percent last year, when individuals paid an average of $4,242 and families paid $11,480. This year also marks the fourth year that the increase has slowed. But Altman said it doesn’t mean much when it outpaces wages and inflation, and now companies and employees are dropping insurance. He said that’s why the number of uninsured Americans continues to rise. The Census Bureau estimates 15.8 percent of Americans were uninsured last year, up from 15.3 percent the year before. As costs rise for workers and companies, revenues for health care insurers continue to soar. But health insurance companies are still paying out roughly the same as they have for years, said Charles Boorady, an equity research analyst with Citigroup. So when insurers charge more for premiums, they’re trying to cover what they pay out in claims, he said, and that means profits are fairly level. “The price increase doesn’t looked aimed at expanding margins, it looks aimed at preserving margins,” Boorady said. WellPoint, the nation’s largest health insurer, reported profits were up 11 percent in the most recent quarter, to $835.2 million and revenue rose nearly 8 percent to $15.3 billion.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img read more