Moderate health care growth continues, but average family premium surpasses $17,000

Premiums for single and family coverage rose an average of 4 percent in 2015, continuing the decade-long trend of moderate growth, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research & Educational Trust (HRET). The 2015 Employer Health Benefits Survey found that since 2005, premiums have grown an average of 5 percent each year. The average annual premium for single coverage is $6,251, of which workers pay $1,071. The average family premium is $17,545, with workers contributing $4,955.

In 2015, 57 percent of employers offer health benefits to at least some of their workers, statistically unchanged from 55 percent last year, the survey found. Offer rates vary by firm size, with 98 percent of large firms (200 or more workers) offering coverage, compared to 47 percent of the smallest firms (three to nine workers).

Deductibles on the rise. Since 2010, both the share of workers with deductibles and the size of those deductibles have increased sharply, Kaiser/HRET found. These two trends together result in a 67 percent increase in deductibles since 2010, much faster than the rise in single premiums (24 percent) and about seven times the rise in workers’ wages (10 percent) and general inflation (9 percent).

According to the survey, 81 percent of covered workers are in plans with a general annual deductible, which average $1,318 for single coverage in 2015. Covered workers in smaller firms (three to 199 workers) face an average deductible of $1,836 this year, while those in large firms (200 or more workers) face an average deductible of $1,105.

“With deductibles rising so much faster than premiums and wages, it’s no surprise that consumers have not felt the slowdown in health spending,” Foundation President and CEO Drew Altman said.

Cadillac tax. A majority (53 percent) of large employers offering health benefits said that they conducted an analysis to determine if any of their plans would exceed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s Cadillac tax thresholds, and 19 percent of this group said their plan with the largest enrollment will exceed the threshold amount. In addition, 13 percent of large firms offering health benefits said they have made changes to their plans to avoid reaching the excise tax thresholds, and 8 percent say they switched to a lower-cost health plan.

“Our survey finds most large employers are already planning for the Cadillac tax, with some already taking steps to minimize its impact in 2018,” said study lead author Gary Claxton, a Foundation vice president and director of the Health Care Marketplace Project. “Those changes likely will shift costs to workers, but exactly how and how much will vary for individual workers.”

Financial incentives. Many large employers offering health benefits offer health screening programs including health risk assessments (50 percent), which are questionnaires asking employees about lifestyle, stress or physical health; and biometric screenings (50 percent), which are in-person health examinations conducted by a medical professional.

Kaiser/HRET found that 31 percent of large employers offering health benefits have a financial incentive for employees to complete health-risk assessments, and 28 percent have an incentive for employees to complete biometric screening.

The majority of large employers continue to offer wellness programs, such as smoking cessation, weight loss or other lifestyle coaching. Thirty-eight percent of those offering one of these wellness programs provide a financial incentive for employees to participate or complete the program. Among these firms, 15 percent offer a maximum incentive greater than $1,000 for all of a firm’s health and wellness programs, including any incentives for health screening.


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