Bosses Put Higher Insurance Tab On Workers' Shoulders

Employers keep shifting a larger share of health costs to their employees. Higher premiums, deductibles and copayments are making health insurance less affordable for people who get coverage at work.

Employers' health insurance premiums haven't actually gone up very much for 2010. But you wouldn't know that if you're an employee.

That's because, for the first time since it started keeping track a decade ago, this year's survey of employers by the Kaiser Family Foundation and Health Research and Educational Trust found those employers passing along virtually all of the increase in the cost of health coverage to their workers.

The result? "Worker contributions to premiums went up 14 percent this year and the employer share did not go up at all," Kaiser President and CEO Drew Altman tells Shots.

How much money is riding? The average premium went up $482 for workers with family policy.

Over time the news for workers has been bad and getting worse for a while. "The employee's share of premiums is up 159 percent in the last 10 years, while wages are up 42 percent," Altman says.

The latest -- and almost complete -- transfer of higher health insurance costs to employees is significant, he says. "It just speaks to the pressure that companies are under, especially small companies, from the recession," he says. "And it also speaks to how badly people need to hold onto their jobs in the recession -- that they will absorb those benefit cuts because they need those jobs."

But Altman says the upward creep of all sorts of health costs for employees, including deductibles and copayments, raises a more ominous question about affordability of health care for the majority of Americans who still get their insurance on the job.

"While we were all focused on expanding coverage in the health reform debate, I think what we missed is that while that debate was going on, what we call health insurance in the country has actually been changing an awful lot," he said. "So what most people get as health insurance today just doesn't look very much like the more comprehensive health insurance their parents got."

And because the politics of the health overhaul debate "were don't touch employer insurance very much," he says, the result is "the basic trend for the 160, 170 million people with employer-based insurance is that insurance is going to slowly change, and people will be in plans with greater cost-sharing and higher deductibles." Copyright 2010 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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