Health insurance premiums rising faster than incomes for California families, study reveals

by Sandy Kleffman, Contra Costa Times

Everyone knows health insurance costs are rising rapidly, but a new study reveals just how heavy a toll that takes on businesses, families and single people.

The numbers are sobering, and they are one reason why wages have stagnated, experts say.

From 2003 to 2010, the combined average amount that California families and their employers paid for health coverage shot up 52 percent, reaching $13,819 annually, according to a recently released study by the Commonwealth Fund.

And what happened to family income during that time?

It rose a mere 4 percent.

Single people didn’t fare any better.

Their premiums soared 46 percent, to $4,811, while their incomes remained flat.

Companies still pay the bulk of such costs but are increasingly telling employees to shoulder a bigger share.

Many employees also are finding they suddenly have new co-pays, higher deductibles and other cutbacks in health benefits as firms struggle to control costs.

Adding to the aggravation for workers: The rising premiums are stifling wages.

"If you think of the whole compensation package, and if one part of that is going up as quickly as it is, then your wages are going to go up at a slower rate," said study co-author Sara Collins, a vice president of the Commonwealth Fund.

‘A money pit’

Over the years, the premium numbers really add up, the study shows. From 2003 to 2010, the total amount paid by the average firm and an employee for family health coverage exceeded $63,000 — enough to pay for a new BMW or finance a UC Berkeley student for two years.

The average company and a single person paid more than $23,000 for premiums during those seven years, enough to rent a 16-passenger yacht to tour the Gal