The high cost of health care remains during the pandemic, even for people lucky enough to still have work-related insurance.
The average annual cost of a family health insurance plan rose to $ 21,342 in 2020. This is according to the latest survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit group that tracks employer-related coverage. Workers paid about a quarter of the total premiums, or an average of $ 5,588, while their employers paid the rest of the costs.
An analysis of the results was published online Thursday in Heath Affairs, an academic journal. While premiums rose only marginally from the 2019 survey, the rise in premiums and deductibles over the past decade has far outperformed both inflation and employee income growth. Since 2010, premiums have risen by 55 percent, more than twice as high as wages or inflation, according to the foundation's analysis.
Approximately 157 million Americans had insurance from their employer prior to the pandemic, but millions have lost their insurance and jobs in recent months. Many experts expect more people to lose coverage in the coming months as companies lay off workers or stop their health benefits.
"Not much changed, but then everything changed," said Gary Claxton, senior vice president at the foundation. The survey was conducted from January to July this year, making it difficult for researchers to see how the changing circumstances will affect the cost and willingness of employers to pay for coverage.
"Going forward, it could look different as employers grapple with the economic and health upheaval caused by the pandemic," Drew Altman, the foundation's executive director, said in a statement.
The survey also underlined how much employees with health insurance still have to spend out of their own pocket for care. In addition to paying their premium, most employees have to pay a high deductible – an average of $ 1,644 for one person. That's more than double what it was in 2010, when the average for a single person was $ 646, according to the foundation.
Some employers and insurance companies waived cost-sharing in the first few months of the pandemic, but some of them have started reintroducing deductibles and co-payments for non-coronavirus-related benefits. The potential cost is particularly worrying during the economic downturn, as self-insured people are reluctant to spend money on a doctor's visit.
The Kaiser study also highlights a problem that most likely worsened during the pandemic: the limited availability of mental health providers within the typical insurance network. The pandemic has increased the need for access to psychiatric and behavioral health services, Claxton said, but the networks offered by insurers often have very limited options.
Only 67 percent of employers surveyed said they were satisfied with the choices of mental health providers available as part of their plan, compared with 83 percent who were happy with the overall choice of doctors and hospitals.
While employers and insurers used telemedicine during the crisis to give workers better access to therapists and medication, it is unclear whether these options will be permanent.
[Like the Science Times page on Facebook. | Sign up for the Science Times newsletter.]