Premiums for employer-sponsored health insurance in the United States are rising five times faster than workers' earnings, a survey released Thursday shows. Premiums increased 11.2 percent, on average, in 2004, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research and Educational Trust (HRET), sponsors of the annual employer health benefits survey. While not as high as last year's 13.9 percent increase, this year's increase is still five times the rate of inflation and five times the rate of growth in workers' earnings. It also marks the fourth year of double-digit premium inflation, according to the survey. As a result, health-care costs continue to affect hiring and remain a No. 1 issue in collective bargaining, according to Christine L. Owens, director of public policy with the AFL-CIO. The annual premium for a plan covering a family of four averaged $9,950, or $829 a month, in 2004, the survey found. Workers contributed $2,661 -- or 10 percent more than they spent the prior year. For single coverage, workers contributed an average of $558 toward the $3,695 annual premium this year. Employees' share was statistically unchanged from 2003. Over time, though, annual increases in worker cost-sharing add up. Since 2001, employees' share of health insurance costs has soared 57 percent for single coverage and 49 percent for family coverage, informs Forbes. According to the Washington Post, employer-sponsored health insurance premiums rose 11.2 percent this year, registering the fourth consecutive double-digit annual increase and pushing the cost of family coverage under the most common type of plan past $10,000, according to a new nationwide survey. While this year's rise was down slightly from the 13.9 percent of last year, it is still "five times the rate of growth in wages [and of] inflation," said Drew E. Altman, president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, which along with the Health Research and Educational Trust, released the survey today. In contrast to the hopeful outlook of a few years ago, most experts see no prospect of a global solution that will bring costs under control, Altman added. Where once it was thought that managed care or a plan proposed by the Clinton administration plan might rein in medical costs in a major way, proposals offered today, such as disease management or consumer-driven health care, appear likely to have a minor impact, he said. Overall, the average cost of health care coverage for a family is $9,950 ($3,695 for a single worker) this year, the survey found. Health maintenance organizations (HMOs) are the least expensive type of plan at $9,504 a year for family coverage and $3,458 for single coverage. Preferred provider organizations (PPOs), which are the most common type of plan and cover 55 percent of workers who have health care, are the most expensive. PPO family premiums average $10,217, while single coverage is $3,808. Among all plans, workers on average pay $2,661 of the $9,950 annual cost for family coverage and $558 of the $3,695. In HMOs, workers pay $2,674 for family coverage and $552 for single, on average. In PPOs, the figures are $2,691 and $573. The percentage of premiums borne by workers has remained more or less constant since 1988 at just under 30 percent, the survey found, though Altman pointed out that this is a constant share of a steadily rising dollar amount.
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