Employer-sponsored healthcare costs top $21K a year

Although not a dramatic increase, that could change as employers "grapple with the economic and health upheaval sparked by the pandemic."
By: | October 19, 2020 • 3 min read

Annual family premiums for employer-sponsored health insurance surpassed $21,000 this year, according to new Kaiser Family Foundation analysis, a figure that primarily reflects pre-pandemic levels.

Annual premiums rose 4% to average $21,342 this year, according to the group’s 2020 benchmark employer health benefits survey. On average, employees this year are contributing $5,588 toward the cost of family coverage, with employers paying the rest. The average cost of an employer health plan for an individual for 2020 was $7,470, also up about 4% from last year.

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The annual change in premiums is similar to the year-to-year rise in workers’ earnings (3.4%) and inflation (2.1%), though over time the amount employers and workers pay toward premiums continues to rise more quickly than wages and inflation. Since 2010, average family premiums have increased 55%, at least twice as fast as wages (27%) and inflation (19%).

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The Kaiser survey also found that deductibles held steady from last year: The average single deductible stands at $1,644 for workers who have one, similar to last year’s $1,655 average but up sharply from the $917 average of a decade ago.

“Conducted partly before the pandemic, our survey shows the burden of health costs on workers remains high, though not getting dramatically worse,” KFF President and CEO Drew Altman said. “Things may look different moving forward as employers grapple with the economic and health upheaval sparked by the pandemic.”

The survey of 1,765 employers was conducted from January to July as the COVID-19 pandemic and economic crisis unfolded and “may not capture its full impact on costs and coverage,” researchers note. The pandemic pushed down overall health spending as many procedures and appointments were halted and nervous patients steered clear of regular checkups and preventive care.

Experts, however, predict healthcare spending will rise sharply in the coming years as a result of missed appointments and late diagnoses.

Recent analysis from Willis Towers Watson recently found that employer healthcare costs in 2020 will likely come in between 3.3% and 8.8% lower than originally expected, as system capacity shifts and fear of contracting the virus in medical settings continues to drive a significant volume of canceled and deferred care. In 2021, costs are expected to rise again, between 0.5% and 5% above non-pandemic projections, due to continued care for COVID-19 patients and delivery of previously deferred non-COVID-19 care.

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“COVID-19 has played havoc with all previous projections of health care utilization levels,” says Trevis Parson, chief actuary at Willis Towers Watson. “In 2020, we may see a reduction in national healthcare expenditures on a per capita basis for the first time since 1960. However, this reversal in trend is highly likely to be only temporary, despite the continued uncertainty about the virus, as previously deferred care returns in 2021.”

Kathryn Mayer is HRE’s benefits editor and chair of the Health & Benefits Leadership Conference. She has covered benefits for the better part of a decade, and her stories have won multiple awards, including a Jesse H. Neal Award and honors from the American Society of Business Publication Editors and the National Federation of Press Women. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Denver. She can be reached at kmayer@lrp.com.