Healthcare Bottom-Line: Workers Pay More

A recently released study by the Kaiser Family Foundation examining trends in employer healthcare benefits recorded a 5% increase in healthcare premiums for 2008. Premiums for employer-provided plans now average $4,704 for a single-person and $12,680 for a family. These figures have increased by a staggering 119% since 1999. Yet, employers have not shouldered the entire burden of these rising costs. They have instead shifted costs off to their employees to the tune of a 117% increase in cost since 1999. Workers now pay, on average, $1,543 for single coverage and $3,354 for family coverage. Equally ominous is the fact that a broad survey of employers found that 40% of respondents expect to increase employee-contributions to all aspects of healthcare coverage in the coming year.

An even more frightening picture is painted when the numbers are examined more closely. The average payment made by a worker for a family plan has increased from $129 in 1999 to $280 in 2008. The squeeze on budgets also has a regional flavor with workers in the South paying a monthly charge of $313 for a family plan while workers in the Northeast are charged in average $246 (although a monthly charge for a single-plan of $75 for Northeast workers is the highest in the country). Employment sector and union status is another factor in the percentage a worker will be forced to pay with wholesale, retail and finance sector workers being asked to pay nearly 20% of single and nearly 30% of family premiums while federal/state/local government workers, who are generally represented by trade unions, pay only 12% for single and 21% for family.

Costs inside of plans have also increased sharply. Take for instance the charges by HMOs for visits to a physician’s office. In 1999, 83% of plans charged a $10 co-pay or less. In 2008, nearly 70% of plans charge $15 or more. Things are even murkier when prescription drugs are considered. Tiering, or creating levels of cost for pharmaceuticals, was introduce en-masse in 2000. A scale of three tiers was employed initially. The first-tier cost of drugs has increased from $8 on average in 2000 to $10 in 2008. However, a fourth tier was introduced widely in 2004 priced at $59. This cost is now $75 and the third tier has increased from $29 in 2000 to $46 in 2008.

The end result of this squeeze is, not surprisingly, enormous profits for health insurance companies and serious pressure on the household budgets of workers. Health insurance giants Humana (18%), United Health (5%) and Aetna (8%) have all reported profit increases for the period from 2006 to 2008. CEOs for companies were well-rewarded with compensation packages which amounted to $10 million, $9 million and $23 million. Simultaneously, a 2005 study indicated that 50% of personal bankruptcy claims, more than 2 million, were based on debts incurred as a result of medical procedures. A correlation has also been made between healthcare and problems with housing including inability to pay rent or mortgage payments.

In sum, we see that healthcare is a serious class issue. The for-profit health system represents a serious financial drain on working-class households and is interlinked with, the now much publicized, problems in the home-loan mortgage markets. The creation of a single-payer national healthcare insurance is therefore the very definition of the term “bailout.” The only difference, and this is a key difference in a society in which corporations monopolize political power, is that instead of the government purchasing worthless mortgage-backed securities, the entire society would be relieved of the financial stress of healthcare bills and psychological anxiety of a future where healthcare is not a guarantee.

Billy Wharton is a writer, activist and co-chair of the Socialist Party USA. He can be reached at: Read other articles by Billy, or visit Billy's website.