If you get your health insurance through your employer, you probably don’t have a good sense whether you’re getting a good deal. One way to assess where your health care spending stands is to compare your company to others in the state.
Your starting point can be the 5 percent rule.
For the past decade, average premium costs for health plans offered by employers have risen about 5 percent a year, a trend that held steady in 2017, according to the N.C. Healthcare Benefits & Cost Survey, issued Monday by Raleigh human resources consulting firm CAI.
The premium is the monthly fee people pay for their health insurance coverage. But it’s not the biggest health care expense people face anymore. By far the biggest chunk of a family’s health care bill, if anyone gets sick, will be the out-of-pocket cost. That’s because employers are increasingly shifting rising costs to deductibles and other hidden costs as a strategy to limit premium increases to the single digits.
“What they’re charging employees has remained fairly steady,” said Molly Hegeman, CAI’s vice president for HR services. “But it’s only because of the change in plan design.”
Hegeman said the cost-shifting can be a more equitable way of distributing the costs of health insurance.
“It actually is a reasonable approach because the people who are incurring the cost are going to pay for it, as opposed to charging everyone at the front end whether or not they use the benefits,” he said.
Employers are also considering other strategies to keep down costs. According to the CAI survey, the most common moves under review are introducing wellness programs, including individual coaching, lifestyle management and nutrition counseling. Companies are also looking at financial incentives and penalties for employees who meet, or fall below, certain health benchmarks, such as glucose levels and body mass index, among others.
Those covered by their employers can consider themselves fortunate compared to residents who buy individual health insurance policies through the Affordable Care Act. For the ACA users, Blue Cross and Blue Shield premiums went up 24.3 percent this year, after rising 32.5 percent in 2016.
The annual CAI survey is the most detailed look available at how much North Carolina employees pay for health insurance. The data is based on responses from 654 companies this year, of which more than half are located in the Triangle.
This year’s survey participants include Angus Barn, Butterball, Capitol Broadcasting Co., Cary Academy, City of Raleigh, Durham Housing Authority, N.C. Rate Bureau, Novozymes North America, Poyner Spruill, Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority, Shaw University and WakeMed Health and Hospitals.
The survey breaks down data by “traditional health plans,” which most people still use, and the high-deductible plans called “consumer-driven plans,” which are growing in popularity.
How does your company stack up?
Here are some of the key figures and trends in this year’s survey for the traditional health plans, which are offered exclusively by 60 percent of employers in North Carolina and by nearly 27 percent of employers that also offer the high-deductible plans as an option.
$554.04: average individual monthly premium
$108.47: amount of premium the employee pays that’s not covered by the employer
4.2 percent: increase since last year
19.3 percent: individual premium increase since 2013
$1,630.44: average family monthly premium
$797.76: amount of premium the employee pays that’s not covered by the employer
5.3 percent: increase since last year
22.1 percent: family premium increase since 2013
$1,734.53: average individual annual deductible
3.4 percent: increase since last year
34.9 percent: increase from 2013
$3,735.72: average family annual deductible
2.9 percent: increase since last year
26.8 percent: increase since 2013
Source: N.C. Healthcare Benefits & Cost Survey by CAI