The cost of employer-sponsored insurance plans continues to rise at a relatively steady rate, even as a global pandemic has caused dramatic disruptions in how and when people get health care.
The findings, released Wednesday, come from the annual report of the California-based Kaiser Family Foundation, which put the average annual premium for family coverage this year in employer-sponsored health plans at $22,221, up 4% over last year. The national survey found that workers are contributing $5,969 to the cost of family coverage this year, with employers paying the rest.
Of note, the survey found that employers are expanding access to mental health services after the COVID-19 crisis revealed this need and promoting telemedicine services that enable remote health care. .
“No matter how you slice it, the total cost of covering a family adds up,” Matthew Rae, the foundation’s associate director, said on a media call Wednesday. “Compared to the rapid premium increases of the early 2000s, we’ve seen relatively modest premium increases this year. On average, family premiums have increased by about $900.”
The survey of nearly 1,700 large and small employers is one of the largest annual looks at premium trends across a wide range of U.S. companies that provide health insurance benefits.
Since 2011, average family premiums have increased by 47%, according to the report, which is faster than the rate of growth over the period for wages (31%) or inflation (19%).
Utilization of health services was hit hard in the spring of 2020 when the pandemic began, causing non-emergency services to shut down across the country.
About half of large employers with at least 200 workers said that in their most recent quarter health care utilization among their covered employees was about what they expected. Nearly a third said usage was below expectations, while 18% said it was above expectations. The findings are consistent with other evidence, the researchers say, of a slowdown in total healthcare spending during the pandemic.
The rate of increase for 2021 matches the trend of the past decade, according to the Kaiser survey, with annual increases in family coverage costs ranging from 3% to 5% each year since 2012.
“In a year where the pandemic has continued to cause health and economic disruption, there have been only modest changes in the cost of employer-provided health benefits,” said Gary Claxton, vice -senior president of the foundation, in a press release. “Some employers have adapted their plans to address mental health and other issues facing their workers due to COVID-19.”
Employer-sponsored health plans are the largest source of health insurance coverage in the United States with approximately 155 million Americans enrolled.
The survey finds that 59% of employers offer health benefits, which is largely unchanged over the past decade. Almost all companies with at least 200 employees offer coverage compared to 56% of companies with less than 50 employees.
On average, covered workers contribute 17% of the premium for individual coverage, according to the survey, and 28% of the premium for family coverage.
Most covered workers must pay a share of the costs when using health care services, and many face a general annual deductible that must be paid before most services are paid for by the diet.
The average deductible with single coverage is $1,669, similar to past years, but up significantly from 2011, when it was $991. This year, 85% of covered workers have a deductible in their plan, according to the survey, up from 74% a decade ago.
The survey found that a significant share (39%) had made changes to mental health and addiction benefits since the start of the pandemic. Nearly a third (31%) increased the way enrollees could access mental health services, for example through telemedicine programs.
About 1 in 20 employers reported expanding their networks of mental health care providers and/or reducing cost-sharing fees for workers accessing these services. Overall, about 12% of employers with 50 or more workers who provide health benefits reported an increase in the use of mental health services.
The new federal rules will require insurers to make “real-time” information about the estimated cost of services and cost sharing available to policyholders. The survey found that 26% of large employers offering health benefits believe the information will help “a lot” in making health care decisions, although only 3% of large employers said the new health benefits rules transparency would “significantly” reduce health expenditure.
In a write-up of survey results published in the journal Health Affairs, foundation researchers said the COVID-19 pandemic remains the most important story of 2021, including how employers are adjusting benefits. Consequently.
“Overall market characteristics changed little: premiums continued on a modest growth trend, the share of people covered by their work and the share of people covered by their employment remained unchanged, as did the average deductible and the other levels of cost sharing,” the researchers said. wrote.