Employer healthcare costs stable in 2020, COVID-19 impact still unclear, KFF says

Dive Brief:

  • The Kaiser Family Foundation Employer Health Benefits Survey found modest premium growth in 2020 for both single and family coverage. Premiums for both categories rose 4% compared to 2019, although much of the data gathered was before the full brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic became clear. Altogether, more than 1,700 firms were surveyed.

  • The average annual premium for a single employee is $7,470 this year, while it is $21,342 for family coverage. Single employees paid on average 17% of the cost of coverage while they shelled out 27% on average for a family plan.

  • Yet despite the relatively modest growth in premiums, it is still trending far higher than worker earnings and consumer inflation as a whole. Overall, employer group premiums for family coverage have risen 22% over the past five years, compared to 15% growth in pay and 10% overall inflation growth.

Dive Insight:

Some 157 million Americans receive their health insurance through their employers – about 47% of the U.S. population as a whole. And while the COVID-19 pandemic has turned much of healthcare delivery in the United States upside down, employer healthcare costs have been relatively stable so far, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, and is likely not to change dramatically in the coming months.

The latest Kaiser Family Foundation survey bears that out with a 4% rise in premiums for both individual and family coverage during 2020. That’s far better than the annual double-digit percentage increases of a decade ago, but the trends remain higher than worker earnings and consumer inflation as a whole.

Group employers appear to be taking measures to keep costs down; 67% of all employees were in a self-funded plan, up from 61% in 2019. However, larger firms with more 200 or more employees represented the lion’s share: 84% had their workers in a self-funded plan.

Single workers contributed on average $1,243 toward their coverage, while those with family coverage contributed $5,588. While that was down from 2019, it was similar to the money shelled out in 2018, according to the survey (specific numbers from prior years were not provided).

Among types of coverage offered, a preferred provider organization (PPO) plan was the most common, offered to 47% of employees, even though it had the highest premium ($7,880 for a single employee; $22,248 for family coverage). Thirty-one percent are enrolled in a high-deductible health plan (which at $6,890/$20,359 had the lowest premiums); 13% had HMO coverage and just 1% had a straightforward indemnity plan. In 2006, less than 5% of employees were enrolled in a high-deductible plan.

Premiums were higher for single workers employed by firms with less than 200 employees compared to larger employers ($7,483 versus $7,466), while that was reversed for family coverage ($20,438 versus $21,691).

Regarding network availability, 50% of small firms and 70% of larger employers said provider availability from their largest health plans was “very broad,” while far less than 10% of both groups said their provider availability was somewhat or very narrow. However, just 35% of small employers and 37% of large firms said their provider networks for mental health and substance abuse services were “very broad.”

As for the current or post-COVID environment, the survey’s authors concluded that “we do not expect to see big changes in health benefit programs in 2021 as employers focus on more immediate issues, although many employers may continue to make changes related to access to care, including an expansion of telemedicine benefits and employee assistance programs.”