- The average family health insurance plan is up 1% this year, but experts warn that inflation will push prices higher in 2023.
- Nearly half of Americans said a medical bill has put them in debt.
- About 30% of large employers say their networks don’t have enough doctors or behavioral health counselors to provide workers with timely care.
The cost of family health insurance plans rose just 1% this year, even as inflation reached its highest level in four decades, with higher prices for gas, food, rent and other basic expenses.
The average cost of an employer-provided family health plan is $22,463 this year, $242 more than a year ago, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation report. Employer Health Benefits Survey Released This Week. Employers cover most of the health insurance bill for the nearly 159 million Americans who get coverage through their workplace; workers this year will pay $6,106 for a family plan, usually through paycheck deductions.
Officials warn that significant price increases could emerge in 2023 as inflation catches up with the health sector and hospitals, doctors and pharmaceutical companies demand more lucrative payouts from health insurers and employers.
Kaiser Family Foundation President and CEO Drew Altman said current prices could be “the calm before the storm, as recent inflation suggests larger increases are imminent.”
Everything else costs more. Why are health insurance prices flat?
This year’s health insurance premiums were set a year ago before inflation started to take off, according to Gary Claxton, Kaiser’s senior vice president and director of the health care market project.
Claxton said the health care industry is also dealing with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. People delayed doctor and hospital visits in 2020 when COVID-19 emerged, so insurers spent less money on routine care and non-emergency operations. Insurer earnings doubled this year.
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“Insurers are still making money,” Claxton said. “It’s not like they were struggling and they really needed to raise premiums.”
The Kaiser report warned that with inflation this year running at 8%, the highest rate since the early 1980s, employers and consumers could see higher-than-average health insurance premium increases next year. Other analysts agree. Benefits consultant Segal projects health insurance costs will rise 7.4% next year as employers and consumers absorb the bills from doctors, hospitals and pharmaceutical companies.
In a tight labor market, employers are reluctant to make workers pay more
Most large companies are self-financing and pay their workers’ medical claims directly, even if a private health insurer administers the plan. And some companies have been reluctant to make their workers pay more for health insurance or pass costs through higher deductibles.
Kaiser reported that the average deductible for an individual is $1,763, up slightly from $1,669 last year. Individuals must pay this amount out of their own money before coverage becomes effective.
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“Going into this year, we were still in a tight job market,” Claxton said. “Recruiting employees is expensive (and) hassling existing employees is not a good idea.”
But as employers absorb higher medical costs and the job market weakens, companies may be more willing to raise premiums and deductibles, Claxton said.
Employees of companies with fewer than 200 workers already have to pay a larger share of their medical costs. The typical deductible for a small business is more than $2,500, or about $1,000 more than for a large business.
Nearly half of Americans have medical debt
Other surveys show that Americans are struggling to pay for health care as living expenses rise. About 46% of people said a medical bill has put them in debt, according to a survey published this week by telehealth company Babylon.
About 1 in 3 people have trouble paying for routine or emergency care and private health insurance coverage. Those between the ages of 25 and 34 had a harder time paying for health care; More than half of young adults struggled to afford private health insurance, the August survey of 5,000 adults found.
A Commonwealth Fund survey last month found that 42% of Americans with health insurance You had trouble paying a previous medical bill or medical debt. And 46% of working-age adults skipped or delayed care in the past year because of cost.
The Commonwealth Fund report, however, said that those with employer health insurance had stronger coverage compared to those who purchased their own health insurance outright.
Mental health networks fall short
Employers are also focusing more on the mental health needs of their workers following the coronavirus pandemic.
The Kaiser survey said nearly half of large employers reported that more workers are using mental health care services. Nearly 1 in 3 report that more workers are requesting family leave to address mental health care.
But the survey also showed that a long-standing shortage of mental health providers makes it difficult for workers to see a counselor or other specialist. About 30% of large employers say their networks don’t have enough doctors or behavioral health counselors to provide workers with timely care. That shortage persists despite more than 1 in 4 large companies expanding their network of remote and in-person telehealth mental health providers.
Ken Alltucker is on Twitter at @kalltucker, or he can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org
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