Annual premiums for employer-sponsored family health coverage rose 4 percent from last year to an average of $16,351, according to a survey released Tuesday....

Annual premiums for employer-sponsored family health coverage rose 4 percent from last year to an average of $16,351, according to a survey released Tuesday.

Workers on average are paying $4,565 toward the cost of that coverage in 2013.

More than 2,000 small and large employers participated in the survey by Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research & Educational Trust.

The average cost of a single employee’s insurance premiums rose 5 percent, to $5,884, with workers paying an average of $999, the survey found.

The 2013 premium increase is “very moderate’’ compared to the past, when there were sometimes double-digit percentage hikes, said Drew Altman, president and CEO of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

But employees may not be feeling that moderation. That’s because their part of the premium has been rising faster than their wages and the general inflation rate over the past decade. Out-of-pocket costs have increased significantly as well.

“The pain factor for health insurance cost has not disappeared,” said Altman. “Over time, what people pay for health care has dramatically eclipsed both their wages and inflation.”

Since 2003, premiums have increased 80 percent, nearly three times as fast as wages (31 percent) and inflation (27 percent).

The Kaiser/HRET survey also reports that large deductibles — at least $1,000 or more — are common in employer-sponsored plans, especially among workers of firms with 3 to 199 employees.

This year, 78 percent of all covered workers face a general annual deductible, up from 72 percent in 2012. Workers typically must pay this deductible before most services are covered by their health plan.

There’s an even higher cost burden on workers in firms with many lower-wage employees. Those firms require workers to pay $1,363 more on average toward family premiums than workers at firms with fewer lower-wage workers ($5,818 versus $4,455 annually).

Almost all large employers, and most small firms, are using wellness programs of one kind or other to try to reduce their costs. Kaiser Vice President Gary Claxton, however, said opinions differ on how much such programs actually save.

Most covered workers are in PPO plans, but high-deductible health plans with a savings option have now reached 20 percent, the survey found.

Overall, though, 57 percent of firms offer health benefits to at least some of their employees, down from a peak of 68 percent in 2010.

Among firms with three to nine workers, the percentage of employers offering coverage has dropped to 45 percent.

With coverage in small firms continuing to decline, more workers may be eligible for subsidies to purchase coverage on the exchanges being established under the Affordable Care Act, said David Howard of the Department of Health Policy and Management at Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health.

Overall, Howard said, “employers have been shifting a larger share of their costs to employees.’’

Higher deductibles for workers may have restrained overall premium increases, he added.

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Andy Miller

Andy Miller is editor and CEO of Georgia Health News

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