U.S. health insurance

Health insurance costs are going up, and up, and up. And in some cases, up some more. Premiums for employer-sponsored plans rose by 11.2 percent in 2004 -- their fourth straight year of double-digit growth -- despite a modest pull back from 13.9 percent a year earlier, according to a study released Thursday by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research and Educational Trust. Employees, on average, now kick in $558 of the $3,695 yearly cost of a single coverage plan and $2,661 of the $9,950 cost for family coverage. Last year they paid $508 and $2,412. The percentage of premium costs paid by employees was about the same, at 16 percent for single coverage plans and 28 percent for family plans. Overall inflation was 2.3 percent, according to the report, and the gain in wages was 2.2 percent. Since 2001, premiums for family coverage shot up by 59 percent compared to a 9.7 percent gain in inflation and a 12.3 percent wage growth rate. High premiums and a soft economy may have contributed to another trend: fewer workers are receiving health coverage from their employers. The percent of those covered by employer-sponsored plans fell to 61 percent from 65 percent in 2001, leaving an estimated 5 million fewer jobs providing health insurance, informs CNN. According to the NYTimes, the cost of providing health care to employees has risen 11.2 percent this year, according to the results of an authoritative national survey reported yesterday. It was the fourth consecutive year of double-digit increases in health insurance premiums, which has resulted in a steady decline in the number of the nation's workers and their families receiving employer health care coverage. The annual survey of 3,000 companies, conducted between January and May by the Kaiser Family Foundation and Health Research and Educational Trust, is considered a reliable indicator of health care costs paid by companies and their workers. Perhaps the only good news in the report was its indication that the rate of increase slowed from the record 13.9 percent in 2003, turning down for the first time since 1996. But this year's jump was still more than five times the national 2.2 percent increase in wages from the spring of 2003 to spring 2004, as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Small businesses are being especially hard hit as the average family coverage in preferred provider networks, the most common type of health plan, has risen to $10,217, with employees paying $2,691 of the total. In response to the soaring costs, many small companies are simply no longer offering coverage of a worker's spouse and children. Premiums for employer-sponsored health insurance in the United States are rising five times faster than workers' earnings, a survey released Thursday shows. Premiums increased 11.2 percent, on average, in 2004, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research and Educational Trust (HRET), sponsors of the annual employer health benefits survey. While not as high as last year's 13.9 percent increase, this year's increase is still five times the rate of inflation and five times the rate of growth in workers' earnings. It also marks the fourth year of double-digit premium inflation, according to the survey. As a result, health-care costs continue to affect hiring and remain a No. 1 issue in collective bargaining, according to Christine L. Owens, director of public policy with the AFL-CIO, reports the Forbes.

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