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Group health insurance premiums up 50 percent from 2003 to 2010

Premiums for employer-provided health insurance rose by 50 percent from 2003 to 2010 as employers passed on high costs to workers, boosting their annual share of premi­ums by 63 percent over the seven-year period, according to a report issued this week by The Commonwealth Fund.  That’s much faster than overall inflation and wage growth during the period.  The numbers reflect an affordability crisis confronting health insurers given the rate of growth of premiums is taxing the ability of employers and individuals to pay them at the same time the nation struggles to regain economic growth.

The report looks to a combination of insurance market reforms, payment incentives and delivery system changes to potentially reduce insurance costs by an average of 1 to 1.5 percent­age points per year over the next decade.  But even with the higher savings figure, coverage would remain costly, putting the average national family premium at $16,912 in 2015 and $20,620 by 2020, the report estimates.

While not specifically called out in The Commonwealth Fund report, the premium increase data underscore the enormous social cost of the poor health habits of many Americans — unhealthy diet and lack of adequate exercise and sleep — that underlie chronic conditions such as heart disease and diabetes that in turn drive up medical costs.  Insurance market reforms alone can’t address those factors that according to the Preventative Medicine Research Institute account for 75 percent of health care costs that can be prevented by lifestyle changes.

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