Health Care Premiums Increased Twice the Rate of Wages

September 26, 2006 ( - The Kaiser Family Foundation's newly released 2006 Employer Health Benefits Survey shows premiums for employer-sponsored health plans rose 7.7% on average in 2006.

Though this is a decrease in the 2005 rate of 9.2% and the slowest rate of growth recorded since 2000, it is still more than twice the average increase in wages (3.8%) and inflation (3.5%), Kaiser noted in a news release. Premiums have increased 87% in the past six years, with employees paying an average of $2,973 toward premiums – more than $1,300 more than in 2000.

Employees are not embracing consumer-driven health plans (CDHPs), as the survey found that only about 4% of workers are enrolled in high-deductible health plans (HDHPs) with a Health Savings Account (HSA) feature. According to the news release, only 4% of employers said they are very likely to adopt a HDHP associated with an HSA or health reimbursement arrangement (HRA) in the next year.

About 7% of employers overall, and 12% of employers with 1,000 or more employees, offered an HSA-qualified plan. Premiums for these plans averaged $3,405 annually for single coverage and $9,484 for family coverage, the survey found. The premiums are lower for other plans since employee cost-sharing for medical expenses is higher.

According to the survey, 60% of employees are enrolled in preferred-provider organization (PPO) plans, while 20% are enrolled in health maintenance organization (HMO) plans. Thirteen percent of workers participate in point-of-service (POS) plans, and 3% participate in traditional indemnity plans.

On average, employees are paying about 16% of premiums for single coverage and 27% of premiums for family coverage in 2006. Workers at firms with three to 199 employees pay more toward health care premiums than workers at larger organizations.

Other key survey findings included:

  • For prescription drug plans, average co-payments for drugs across plan types were $11 for generic drugs, $24 for preferred drugs and $38 for non-preferred drugs.
  • About 61% of firms nationally offer health benefits to at least some of their workers. While nearly all businesses with at least 200 workers offer health benefits to employees, fewer than half of the smallest firms (three to nine workers) do.
  • Few employers have much confidence in strategies to contain rising health-care costs. Only 17% of small employers and 28% of large employers say that they consider disease management programs “very effective” at controlling health-care costs. Few employers also rated other strategies as very effective, including consumer-directed health plans (16% of small and 13% of large employers), higher employee cost sharing (15% of small and 13% of large firms), and tighter managed-care networks (9% of small and 4% of large firms).

The summary of survey findings is here .