Employer survey again shows higher costs for workers, firms

Health care costs for both companies and workers keep going higher, with no end in sight.

A national survey released Wednesday reported that premiums for employer health plans for family coverage rose 5 percent this year.

That benefit cost increase, as in previous years, rose faster than workers’ wages and inflation, said the 2019 benchmark Kaiser Family Foundation Employer Health Benefits Survey.

On average, workers this year are contributing $6,015 toward the cost of family coverage, with employers paying the rest of the $20,576 cost, the survey found. Since 2009, average family premiums have increased 54% and workers’ contribution have increased 71% — several times more quickly than wages (26%) and inflation (20%).

The average single deductible now stands at $1,655 for workers, higher than last year’s $1,573 average but up sharply from the $826 average of a decade ago, according to the survey of more than 2,000 employers.

“The single biggest issue in health care for most Americans is that their health costs are growing much faster than their wages are,” said Kaiser Family Foundation President and CEO Drew Altman in a statement. “Costs are prohibitive when workers making $25,000 a year have to shell out $7,000 a year just for their share of family premiums.”


Premiums for large employers are expected to rise another 5 percent for 2020, said the National Business Group on Health.

The employer benefit survey results come as open enrollment season begins for many employers for the 2020 plan year.

About 153 million Americans rely on employer-sponsored coverage.

The survey detailed an increased burden on workers at small firms.

More than a quarter (28%) of all covered workers, including nearly half of those at small employers with fewer than 200 employees, are now in plans with a deductible of at least $2,000, almost four times the share who faced such deductibles in 2009. One in eight now face deductibles of at least $3,000.

Among firms offering coverage, employers with many lower-wage workers (earning $25,000 or less a year) offer health benefits to a smaller share of their workforce and require workers to pay a higher share of premiums than other employers.

Among firms that offer health benefits, two-thirds (66%) of workers at lower-wage firms are eligible for health benefits, significantly less than the share (81%) eligible at other firms, the survey reported

Workers covered by lower-wage firms have an annual family contribution of $7,047. Workers at other firms contribute an average of $5,968 annually.

One result, the report’s authors say, is that fewer workers at lower-wage firms take up their employer’s health benefits when offered. The net effect is that one in three (33%) workers at lower-wage firms offering health benefits are covered by their employer’s health benefits, well below the 63% share at other offering firms.

“Employer-sponsored coverage doesn’t come cheap for employers or workers, and many who work at low-wage firms or small business likely find it too costly to cover their families,” said Gary Claxton, a KFF senior vice president and director of the Health Care Marketplace Project.

Laura Colbert of the consumer advocacy group Georgians for a Healthy Future, asked to comment on the survey results, said Wednesday that the combination of rising premiums and growing deductibles “is really troubling for Georgia workers.”

“They are unfairly bearing the brunt of an ever-more-expensive health care system,” Colbert said. “This is especially problematic for lower wage workers and likely to exacerbate health disparities between low- and high- income Georgians.  If Georgia workers are going to find any relief, it is imperative that costs across the health care system are meaningfully addressed by health care providers, insurers and policymakers, with direct input from consumers.”