U.S. Worker Health Insurance Premiums Have Increased at Three Times Rate of Earnings Since 2000, Study Finds
Health insurance premiums paid by U.S. workers have increased at nearly three times the rate of average earnings since 2000, and the percentage of U.S. residents whose health care costs exceed a quarter of their earnings is on the rise, according to a new study conducted by the Lewin Group for Families USA, USA Today reports. For the study, which was released Tuesday, the Lewin Group analyzed data from the Census Bureau, the Labor Department and other federal agencies. The researchers estimated that employees' premium costs for private health insurance coverage rose 35.9% between 2000 and 2004, while average individual earnings rose just 12.4% during the same period.
The report says that the "main forc[e] driving the rise in private insurance premiums" is rising health care costs, USA Today reports. However, it also says that the escalating number of uninsured residents has contributed to premium increases because "costs of treating the uninsured who are not covered by government programs are passed along to others," USA Today reports. The report also found that:
- During the study period, employees' average annual premiums for family coverage increased from $1,433 to $1,947.
- Average employer health care premium contributions increased by 31.8% during the study period.
- Employers' share of premiums for family health insurance coverage increased from $5,595 to $7,373.
- The number of U.S. residents under age 65 whose health care costs exceed 25% of their annual income increased from 11.6 million in 2000 to 14.3 million this year.
- Among insured U.S. residents, those with health care costs exceeding 25% of their income grew from 8.4 million to 10.7 million (Welch, USA Today, 9/28).
- Average worker contributions to health care premiums increased by more than 40% between 2000 and 2004 in 26 states, including Colorado, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico and Wisconsin (AP/Arizona Daily Star, 9/28).
- For the two-year period between 2003 and 2004, the number of people lacking health insurance for at least one month was 85 million -- about 12.7 million higher than the number of uninsured in the two-year period between 1999 and 2000, according to the study. The Census Bureau estimates that 45 million U.S. residents were uninsured for all of 2003.
- The percentage of Hispanics who are uninsured rose from 50% to 61% during the study period (Connolly, Washington Post, 9/28).
The report borrowed a comparison "President Reagan made famous in the 1980 campaign," posing the question of "whether the nation is better off today than it was four years ago" in terms of health care, the AP/Daily Star reports. The report answers the question by stating, "Our analysis leaves no room for debate. The clear answer is no" (AP/Arizona Daily Star, 9/28). The report adds, "These grim findings explain why health care costs and coverage have become a top-priority concern for America's families over the past four years" (USA Today, 9/28).
Families USA scheduled events nationwide on Tuesday to highlight the study's findings. HHS spokesperson Bill Pierce said Families USA, which has supported Kerry's health care proposals, has a "purely partisan" agenda, adding that the study does not take into account increases in Medicaid and SCHIP enrollment and the benefits of last year's Medicare overhaul effort (AP/Arizona Daily Star, 9/28).
Pierce said President Bush has "led the most significant change in health care in this country" through the enactment of the Medicare law (USA Today, 9/28). The report is available online.
In related news, employer coverage fell in recent years as enrollment in Medicaid and SCHIP grew, according to a separate study released yesterday (Washington Post, 9/28). Between 2000 and 2003, the number of U.S. residents under age 65 without health insurance grew by 5.1 million, largely because of continuing declines in employer-sponsored coverage, according to a report released on Monday by the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured.
The researchers found that during the study period, the rate of employer-sponsored coverage decreased from 68.9% of adults in 2000 to 65.1% of adults in 2003. The decline in coverage led to an increase of 2.4 percentage points in the uninsured rate among adults because public coverage expansions did not offset the losses, according to the report. The report attributes the decrease in employer-sponsored insurance to a decline in the percentage of the population that was employed and a "shift in employment from industries that have historically had high rates of coverage to industries that have not, as well as from large firms to small firms and self-employment" (Holahan/Ghosh, "The Economic Downturn and Changes in Health Insurance Coverage, 2000-2003," September 2004).
Kaiser Family Foundation President and CEO Drew Altman said, "The cost of family health insurance is rapidly approaching the gross earnings of a full-time minimum-wage worker. If these trends continue, workers and employers will find it increasingly difficult to pay for family health coverage, and every year, the share of Americans who have employer-sponsored health coverage will fall" (Washington Post, 9/28).
The report also found that although the number of children below or near the poverty level increased by two million between 2000 and 2003, the number of uninsured children decreased by about 300,000 because of increased enrollment in Medicaid and SCHIP programs ("The Economic Downturn and Changes in Health Insurance Coverage, 2000-2003," September 2004). The report is available online.