Health insurance premiums outpace wages

Premiums for employer-based health insurance in North Carolina rose 5.3 times faster than wages over the past eight years, according to a report released Wednesday.

S.C. figures were slightly worse – insurance premiums there rose 5.7 times faster than median family earnings from 2000 to 2007.

The Carolinas followed a nationwide trend, according to the report by Families USA, a Washington-based consumer advocacy group. Nationally, health insurance premiums rose 5.4 times faster than earnings. Michigan was the worst, where premiums rose 17 times faster than earnings, said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA.

Average employer-based health insurance premiums for an N.C. family increased from $6,649 in 2000 to $11,618 in 2007, an increase of 74.7 percent, Pollack said. Those figures are the combined amount paid by both the employer and employees.

At the same time, earnings rose by only 14 percent. Average S.C. premiums rose from $6,600 to $11,624, and earnings rose 13.4 percent. Also, fewer benefits are included in the coverage, and workers are paying more in deductibles and co-pays, Pollack said.

“People are paying more and more and receiving less and less,” he said. “If this troubling trend continues, many more will become uninsured and underinsured.”

Adam Searing, of the N.C. Justice Center's Health Access Coalition, said the report is another in a series of “alarm bells” that should move the country to health reform.

“We have a plan for health reform in North Carolina,” he said. “We know what to do. We need the political will to do it. I don't know how many more alarm bells we need to hear before we decide to act.”

In a separate report, the Kaiser Family Foundation announced that premiums for employer-sponsored health insurance rose to $12,680 annually for family coverage in 2008, with employees on average paying $3,354 out of their paychecks.

Nationally, premiums rose only 5 percent in 2008, but they have more than doubled since 1999 when total family premiums stood at $5,791, of which workers paid $1,543.

During the same nine-year period, the Kaiser report said, workers' wages increased 34 percent and general inflation rose 29 percent.