Its open enrollment time for employer-sponsored health care programs, and the vast majority of participants in plans sponsored by the private sector are going to see costs rise. Price hikes in the 10-20% range are likely, according to health care consulting firms. The increases will cross the spectrum of services, as companies are charging higher premiums and higher co-payments for visits to the doctor and higher co-payments for prescription drugs, even as health care plans offer fewer benefits.
Last year, the average deductible in Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) plans rose 30%, according to the Kaiser Foundation. Participants in plans that once charged no co-payments at all for doctor's visits are likely to face payments in the $35 range in 2010. The costs for medical procedures are rising to, as they are increasingly being billed as a percentage of the total expense instead of a flat co-payment, pushing an ever-large slice of the bill on to the patient. Payments of 20% or more will become increasingly common.
The increased costs will be coupled with a reduction in choice, as employers phase out expensive, high-end plans and drop coverage for services such as dental and vision. (For guidance on how to sort through the various plans and figure out which health care option might work for you, read How To Choose A Healthcare Plan.)
Paying from the Pocket
As the high-end plans disappear, a greater push is being made to force employees into high-deductible health plans (HDHPs). Many HDHPs require participants to fund out-of-pocket payments that range into the thousands of dollars, essentially offering little more than the equivalent of catastrophic coverage.
In the past, employers often made contributions to health savings accounts (HSAs) to help offset the costs of HDHPs make them more attractive. Employees could invest the contributions in mutual funds or other investments in an effort to increase the available amount. In a double whammy, many employers have eliminated their contributions as a result of the economic downturn and, to add insult to injury, the stock market crash reduced balances in some HSAs.
While the rising costs are putting a financial burden on middle-class workers and their families, the plight of the poorest among us is even worse. For the more than 43 million uninsured people living in one of the wealthiest nations on the planet, the best plan our politicians have been able to up can be summed up in three words: Don't get sick. As prices continue to rise, that plan is likely to expand to include many of the people who have employer-sponsored health care coverage. (To lessen the bit of health care costs, read 20 Ways To Save On Medical Bills.)