Health insurance premiums in Washington state doubled over 10 years

McClatchy NewspapersSeptember 15, 2009 

WASHINGTON -- Family health insurance premiums have more than doubled in Washington state over the past 10 years, rising five times faster than salaries, according to a study released Tuesday.

The average, annual job-based health insurance premium in Washington state grew from $6,500 to nearly $13,860 between 2000 and 2009, an increase of $7,360, or 113 percent, reported Washington, D.C.-based Families USA, a consumer health organization. The figure included both employer and worker shares of the premiums.

Over the same time period, the median earnings of Washington workers increased 21.6 percent, from $26,760 to $32,530, the report said.

The report used data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Labor Department and Department of Health and Human Services.

The study is one of the most detailed looks at health care costs in Washington state and comes as the White House and Congress are in the midst of a heated debate over health care reform.

"If nothing is done to reverse this trend, health insurance will become increasingly unaffordable for families in Washington and across the nation," the report said.

Families USA has been issuing state-by-state reports. But it has not compiled any national averages, explaining that median income and insurance regulations are different in each state.

However, another health care group, the Kaiser Family Foundation, said in a report Tuesday that premiums nationwide are up 131 percent since 1999, while wages were up 38 percent and inflation 28 percent. In 2009, the group found the average cost of job-based family health insurance climbed 5 percent, to $13,375.

Other reports from Families found premiums have more than doubled over the past 10 years in such Western states as Oregon, California and Idaho.

In Oregon, health care premiums rose 101 percent, growing about 4.2 times faster than salaries. In California, premiums were up 109 percent, growing 4.3 times faster than salaries. And in Idaho, premiums were up 123 percent, growing three times faster than salaries.

In Washington state, Families USA also found:

  • The employers' share of annual premiums for workers and their families increased 127 percent over the past 10 years, from $4,850 to $10,400.
  • The workers' share of health insurance premiums for themselves and their families increased 81 percent over the past 10 years to $3,460.
  • For individual health care coverage, the employers' portion of annual premiums increased 66 percent, from $2,450 to $4,080.
  • For individual health care coverage, the workers' portion of the premiums increased 112 percent, from $285 to $605.

The report blamed the increases on wasteful health care spending, a mostly unregulated insurance market, less competition among insurance companies and cost shifting as those with health care insurance increasingly help pick up the tab of the uninsured.

Supporters of health care reform said they weren't surprised by the study's conclusions.

"This study confirms what Washington state families and businesses know all too well: Our current health care system is simply unsustainable," said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. "And while health care rhetoric and political posturing have been on the rise, costs have, too. It's clear that doing nothing will solve nothing."

Others pointed out that Families USA has been supportive of the Democrats health care reform efforts.

"Americans know that health care is too expensive and that any reform plan must focus on lowering costs -- unfortunately, the House Democrats' bills won't accomplish that goal," said Charlie Keller, a spokesman for Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash. "Congressman Hastings supports health care reform, but not the government takeover proposed by President Obama and House Democrats."

McClatchy Newspapers 2009

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