Why Health Insurance Premiums Went Up continued...
The AHIP and other experts agree: The price of health care is going up faster than inflation, and much faster than wage growth.
According to a Standard & Poor analysis, health care costs covered by commercial insurers went up 7.73% in the year ending July 2011.
"The big issue is that health care costs continue to climb faster than the rest of the economy," Collins says.
Levitt notes that insurers have to predict in advance what their costs will be. In 2011, he says, they guessed wrong.
"This year many insurers guessed costs would go up faster than they actually have," he says. "The big factor is the economic downturn. Families are struggling financially, and cutting back on health care. Insurers and many of us thought the downturn was ending, and that people would seek health care they had put off."
The AHIP points out another factor. In harsh economic times, healthy people gamble that they will stay that way and don't buy health insurance. That means people who are insured, as a group, are less healthy and need more health care.
What about greedy insurers gouging customers to ensure high profits? The AHIP says this isn't a factor, and that the average profit margin for health insurers is 4.5%.
Collins says that insurers' administrative costs and profit margins vary widely from company to company. But she notes that the Affordable Care Act will force insurers to spend at least 80% to 85% of premiums on health care.
Cutting Your Health Insurance Costs
When the Affordable Care Act takes full effect in 2014, the health insurance game will change. But what can families paying more and more for job-based health insurance do next year?
It's possible that premiums may not go up as much next year as they did this year. But don't count on it.
"The fact of the matter is that over the longer term, premiums have gone up much faster than people's ability to afford them," Levitt says. "Premiums have gone up faster than workers' wages, faster than inflation, faster than the cost of other goods people buy. Nothing suggests this trend will change in future."
For now, Collins says, two specific populations can take meaningful action:
- States already have to offer health insurance plans that cover people with pre-exisiting conditions. "If you have a condition that excludes you from coverage or you need a reasonable premium, that is a place to apply," she says.
- If you're under age 26, find out if your parents have a policy that offers dependent coverage. "This is a group with high unemployment right now, and this is a really broad benefit," Collins says.
Levitt recommends that people access the healthcare.gov web site, which offers a clear guide to buying health insurance.
"Plans can vary a lot in cost and coverage. Comparison shopping is the key," he says. "But it still isn't as easy as it should be, because you can still be excluded or charged more for underlying conditions. That won't change until 2014."