Health Care Spending Slows, but No Relief

By Rita Pyrillis

Feb. 26, 2015

The rise in national health care spending has slowed dramatically in recent years, but that offers little comfort to employees whose share of the bill is growing rapidly and providing less financial protection, according to a recent report by The Commonwealth Fund.

In every state during the past decade, the cost of employer-provided health care grew faster than incomes, forcing workers to ultimately dig deeper into their pockets, the state-by-state analysis of employer-provided health insurance costs showed. Some employee contributions have risen as much as 175 percent between 2003 and 2013, with workers in southern states being hit the hardest.

“Slow wage growth means working families in every state are being squeezed by health care costs,” said Sara Collins, vice president for health care coverage and access at The Commonwealth Fund, in a statement.

The report attributes the slow growth in part to improvements in health care delivery brought by the Affordable Care Act.

But as employers try to lower their health care costs by asking workers to contribute more to their premiums and pay higher deductibles and copayments, employees are paying more but getting less coverage, according to the report.

In 2003, employees’ annual premium contributions averaged $606 a year for a single-person plan; by 2013 this had risen to $1,170, according to the study. Florida, New Hampshire, Delaware, Connecticut and Massachusetts saw the highest employee premium costs with an average of $1,480 compared with $751 in Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, Montana and Arkansas.

In 15 states, the annual costs for employees’ share of premiums rose by at least 100 percent from 2003 to 2013. During the same period, deductibles doubled or more in all but six states and the District of Columbia.

“This report shows that national patterns of growing health cost burdens on workers are mirrored in every state,” said Commonwealth Fund President Dr. David Blumenthal in a statement. “Out-of-pocket costs are up in most states and incomes are not keeping pace. This is of concern, since research shows that high health care cost burdens relative to income may lead people to avoid seeking needed health care. 

Rita Pyrillis is a writer based in the Chicago area.

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