by Liv Osby, The Greenville News

Published September 25, 2008

Health-care premiums rose just 5 percent this year nationwide, but increasing deductibles and co-payments and less comprehensive coverage are largely responsible, new research shows.

And while this year’s increase may be more modest than before, premiums have increased at 31/2 times the rate of wages over the past nine years, according to a study released Wednesday by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research & Educational Trust.

“We may be seeing the tip of the iceberg as far as the trend towards less comprehensive, skimpier insurance for working people with higher deductibles and out-of-pocket costs,” Kaiser president Drew Altman said in a teleconference announcing the findings.

“And you have to look at the cumulative impact. That’s why people tell us paying for health insurance is one of their top problems today.”

Employees at small businesses have been most affected, with more than a third paying at least $1,000 out of pocket before their plans kick in, up from 21 percent last year.

More than 60 percent of small businesses in the state can’t afford to offer health insurance, said Frank Knapp, president of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber. And because of the rising costs, more small businesses are unable to offer health insurance and more employees are unable to afford the increasing premiums, deductibles and copays.

“There’s no question that small businesses for quite some time have been dealing with increasing costs of health insurance by increasing the costs to employees,” Knapp said. “People are spending more money and getting less benefits.”

Knapp says the 5 percent average increase reported nationwide by Kaiser seems low for South Carolina. “I have not heard anybody talk about 5 percent,” he said. “I think we’re still looking at close to double digits every year.”

Ben Waldrop, co-owner of Century Printing & Packaging Inc. in Greer, said he settled on a 12 percent hike after his insurer proposed a 19 percent increase for the high-deductible health savings account plan he offers his 22 employees. That was only possible by increasing the deductible from $2,500 to $3,500, he said.

“We sat down with the employees and were frank about the costs and increases, and they said they understand,” he said. “But if rates continue to rise at those numbers, we as a small company cannot continue to completely pay the premiums for an indefinite period of time.”

Original article: http://www.greenvilleonline.com/article/20080925/NEWS01/809250326/Health-insurance-Less-costs-more-study-finds

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