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Family Insurance Premiums Top $12,000

Costs Continue to Rapidly Outpace Wages

WebMD Health News

Sept. 11, 2007 - The cost of health insurance for the average family of four now tops $12,000 per year, according to an annual survey released Tuesday.

The report shows that workplace medical insurance premiums went up an average of 6.1% over the past year to reach $12,106. Average wages went up 3.7% over the same period, concluded the study, issued by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Though this year’s growth in prices is the slowest seen since 2003, researchers warn that premiums have now gone up nearly 80% since 2001.

“No one in the real world is celebrating because it just doesn’t feel like moderation at all,” says Drew Altman, the foundation’s president. “It’s just a very, very big number.”

Workers on average pay about one-third of premium costs from their wages. But rising prices are a key driver forcing more and more employers to drop coverage for their employees.

The U.S. Census Bureau reported last month that the number of uninsured Americans had swelled to a record 47 million. Most of those people live in families with at least one full-time worker.

“The average cost of health care still haunts those workers like a dark cloud,” says Mary Pittman, president of the Health Research and Education Trust.

Top Issue

Polls have shown that health care costs have become the top domestic issue for voters and the second overall behind the war in Iraq.

Rising insurance premiums mean that coverage for the average family of four now costs more than the yearly earnings of a worker making minimum wage, says John Gabel, a senior fellow at the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago.

“It does seem like we’ve crossed a threshold,” Altman says.

Price Pressure

Rising hospital costs are the fastest growing part of health care costs. Prices for prescription drugs also put pressure on health costs, though a shortage of expensive new products in drug company pipelines has depressed growth in recent years.

Overall U.S. spending on health now tops $2 trillion per year, far more than in any other industrialized country.

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