Health premiums continue to skyrocket

Health-care premiums in New Hampshire have risen astronomically this decade compared to sluggish increases in earnings, a pair of national reports conclude.

From 2000 to 2008, the cost of premiums for families rose 4.3 times faster than did earnings over the same period.

Meanwhile, the number of people without coverage in the state grew by 18 percent since 2000, up to 133,000 in New Hampshire compared to 113,000 eight years earlier.

The sources for both studies, Families USA and the Obama administration, used the results to promote pending legislation in Congress to offer universal health care coverage.

“Our findings are clear. Health coverage is suddenly becoming too costly for New Hampshire’s working families,” the Families USA report concluded.

According to the report, average annual premiums rose 92 percent to $14,448 last year compared to $7,525 in 2000.

Meanwhile, wages during the same period of the Families USA study rose only 21 percent to $33,003 up from $27,226.

“Rising health-care costs threaten the financial well-being of families in New Hampshire and across the nation,” said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA. “If health-care reform does not happen soon, more and more families will be priced out of the health coverage they used to take for granted.”

Hitting employees

What is most troubling to the pro-reform group is that as prices rose, employers were still forced to water down or thin their extent of coverage. For example, the study concluded that 11 percent of the decline in families coverage from 2001-05 was due to employers who had dropped coverage for dependents.

Still, more companies in New Hampshire offered coverage than the national average by a substantial margin.

The Obama administration reported that companies offering plans in the state had fallen from 81 percent to 78 percent since 2000. But that’s much higher than the national average of employer coverage, which was pegged at 63 percent in 2008.

The Families USA report concludes part of the rising cost of health coverage is due to a lack of competition in the insurance marketplace. Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Hampshire holds 51 percent and with Cigna Healthcare, the two largest firms have 75 percent of customers.

The studies showed that since 2000, employees were bearing more of the cost increase in coverage than employers. The costs for workers toward their health insurance since 2000 went up 138 percent while the employer’s bill shot up 82 percent from 2000 to 2008.

Other factors contributing to the increase are health-care spending trends, lax regulation of the health insurance industry and costs shifted onto the insured to subsidize for a growing number of those without coverage, according to Families USA.

“All of these issues can be addressed in a comprehensive reform of our health-care system that will allow businesses and families to afford quality health coverage,” Pollack said.

The White House also reported that the percent of non-elderly adults without insurance increased to 14.4 percent up from 11.7 percent.

The Obama administration report counts those who are uninsured for an entire year.

“These numbers only serve to further confirm a reality for far too many,” said U.S. Heath and Human Services Secretary Katherine Sebelius. “Our health-care system has reached a breaking point. The status quo is unsustainable, and continuing to delay reform is not an option.”

A copy of the full report is available online at costly-coverage/new-hampshire.pdf.

For more information from the Obama administration’s analysis of health care coverage, go to healthcarestatus.html and click on “New Hampshire.”