Costs for employer-paid health insurance are rising rapidly: between 2001 and 2007, premiums for family coverage have increased 78%, while wages have risen 19% and inflation has risen 17%, according to a 2007 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Employer costs have risen noticeably per hour worked, and vary significantly. In particular, average employer costs for health benefits vary by firm size and occupation. The cost per hour of health benefits is generally higher for workers in higher-wage occupations, but represent a smaller percentage of payroll. The percentage of total compensation devoted to health benefits has been rising since the 1960s. Average premiums, including both the employer and employee portions, were $4,704 for single coverage and $12,680 for family coverage in 2008.
Critics said that "Exemptions would lead to market instability and higher premiums in the traditional small-group market. AHPs exempt from state regulation and oversight would enable them to be more selective about who they cover. They will be less likely to cover higher-risk populations, which would cause an imbalance in the risk pool for other small business health plans that are part of the state small group risk pool. Adverse selection would likely abound and Association Health Plans would be selling an unregulated product alongside small group plans, which creates an unlevel playing field." According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), "[p]remiums would go up for those buying in the traditional small-group market." competing against AHPs that offer less expensive and less comprehensive plans.
Generally, group health insurance plans cover the cost of medical office visits for illness and checkups, hospitalization, emergency room services, ambulance transportation, operations, physical therapy, and even prescription drugs, to provide several examples of potentially covered health care services. But, every plan is different and it behooves an employee to become familiar with the details of his or her employer's plan before the benefit is needed.
Typically, employer-sponsored plans can include a range of plan options. From health maintenance organizations (HMOs) and preferred provider organizations (PPOs) to plans that provide additional coverage such as dental insurance, life insurance, short-term disability insurance, and long-term disability insurance, employer-sponsored health plans can be comprehensive to meet the insurance needs of employees.
According to a 2007 study, about 59% of employers at small firms (3–199 workers) in the US provide employee health insurance. The percentage of small firms offering coverage has been dropping steadily since 1999. The study notes that cost remains the main reason cited by small firms who do not offer health benefits. Small firms that are new are less likely to offer coverage than ones that have been in existence for a number of years. For example, using 2005 data for firms with fewer than 10 employees, 43% of those that had been in existence at least 20 years offered coverage, but only 24% of those that had been in existence less than 5 years did. The volatility of offer rates from year to year also appears to be higher for newer small businesses.
Types of Coverage: All of the health plans sold through the Marketplace are offered by private insurance companies and are required to meet minimum requirements. All of the plans are required to cover a comprehensive set of benefits that includes hospital care, doctors’ visits, emergency care, prescription drugs, lab services, preventive care, and rehabilitative services. Before choosing a plan, individuals will be able to see whether their healthcare practitioner participates in the plan’s network (if choosing a network plan). Individuals will be able to choose the plan that best meets their needs and budget. Individuals with low-incomes may instead qualify for free or low-cost coverage through Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
Prescription drug plans are a form of insurance offered through some health insurance plans. In the U.S., the patient usually pays a copayment and the prescription drug insurance part or all of the balance for drugs covered in the formulary of the plan. Such plans are routinely part of national health insurance programs. For example, in the province of Quebec, Canada, prescription drug insurance is universally required as part of the public health insurance plan, but may be purchased and administered either through private or group plans, or through the public plan.
Plans with much higher deductibles than traditional health plans—primarily providing coverage for catastrophic illness—have been introduced. Because of the high deductible, these provide little coverage for everyday expenses—and thus have potentially high out-of-pocket expenses—but do cover major expenses. Couple with these are various forms of savings plans.
You may be able to get extra help to pay for your prescription drug premiums and costs. To see if you qualify for getting extra help, call: 1-800-MEDICARE (800-633-4227). TTY or TDD users should call 877-486-2048, 24 hours a day/7 days a week; The Social Security Office at 800-772-1213 between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., Monday through Friday. TTY or TDD users should call, 800-325-0778; or Your State Medical Assistance (Medicaid) Office.