Rise in insurance premiums eases a bit, survey finds

Employers have seen fairly tame increases in health insurance premiums this year, according to a survey released Tuesday.

Premiums for family and individual coverage rose 4 percent and 3 percent, respectively, in 2012, said the survey of more than 2,000 small and large employers by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research & Educational Trust.

This year’s family coverage hike compares with last year’s increase of 9 percent.

Still, the 2012 figures outpace growth in workers’ wages (1.7 percent) and general inflation (2.3 percent), extending a long-term trend. The survey points out that since 2002, premiums have increased 97 percent, roughly three times as fast as wages (33 percent) and inflation (28 percent).

“In terms of employee insurance costs, this year’s 4 percent increase qualifies as a good year, but it still takes a growing bite out of middle-class workers’ wages, which have been flat or falling in real terms,” said Drew Altman, Kaiser’s president and CEO.

The survey said annual premiums for employer-sponsored family health coverage reached $15,745 this year, with workers on average paying $4,316 of that total.

The survey also found workers in low-wage companies paid more out of paychecks for family coverage than employees at higher-wage firms. In addition, workers at lower-wage firms are also more likely to face high deductibles than those at higher-wage firms.

Using higher deductibles is how Max McAllister at Traxxion Dynamics Inc. in Woodstock helps contain his health costs.

The 12-employee company, a motorcycle suspension manufacturer, pays 100 percent of the premium for single coverage for an employee, said McAllister, president of the firm.

But Traxxion has faced increases of 15 percent to 20 percent in those premiums, and McAllister has been forced to switch plans every other year to keep the costs down.

Searching for a new plan takes ‘‘a massive amount of time,’’ he said.

The current deductible is $2,500 for an employee –- the highest the company has had in the 10 years it has been providing insurance, McAllister said.

But he said he feels strongly about providing coverage to workers. “I don’t allow anyone to work here without health insurance,’’ he said.

McAllister is an opponent of the health care reform law and most regulation. Still, he said, health costs should be brought under more control. “Cost increases for insurance need to be regulated,’’ he said.

The 14th annual Kaiser/HRET survey was conducted between January and May 2012.

Employer-sponsored insurance is the leading source of health insurance in the United States, covering about 149 million non-elderly people.

The survey estimates that 2.9 million young adults are currently covered by employer plans this year as a result of a provision in the health care reform law that allows young adults up to age 26 to be covered on their parents’ plan.

In other survey findings:

* Most workers in employer plans are in PPOs.

* More than half (54 percent) of employers who offer health benefits reported that they had shopped around for new coverage.

* This year, 61 percent of all firms offer health benefits to their workers –- statistically unchanged from last year. But just 50 percent of firms with three to nine employees offer insurance.

* In 2012, 31 percent of employers offer health benefits to same-sex domestic partners, up from 21 percent three years earlier.