Rising health costs outpace isle workers' pay, report says


POSTED: Sunday, September 20, 2009

Family health insurance premiums for Hawaii's working families increased 94.2 percent in the past decade—3.7 times more than median earnings, says Families USA.

“;Quite simply, Hawaii's families are being priced out of health coverage,”; the nonprofit consumer health care advocacy organization said in a report titled “;Costly Coverage: Premiums Outpace Paychecks in Hawaii.”;

Besides higher premiums, the report said, working families face higher deductibles, copayments and costs for services not covered by plans.

“;It is clear why many Hawaii families feel worse off economically than they did a decade ago,”; the Washington, D.C.-based organization said.

“;Everybody agrees the amount folks spend on health care is nonsustainable,”; said Laura Lott, spokeswoman for the Hawaii Medical Service Association, the state's largest health insurance carrier with 700,000 members. “;That is why people are so focused on health care reform.”;

State Insurance Commissioner J.P. Schmidt said: “;Health care costs and, therefore, premiums had a higher rate of increase than standard inflation, with the costs doubling over the past 10 years. The cost is anticipated to double in the next 10 years and people are struggling now. That is one of the motivating factors for reform.”;

The original idea of the employer health insurance act was the cost would be shared equally by employers and employees, Schmidt said, but the law put a cap on the employee portion at 1.5 percent of the employee's salary.

As a result, he said, the amount employers have paid has increased substantially, but a number of Hawaii employers don't charge employees.

Families USA said the average annual premium for families rose in Hawaii to $11,740 in 2009 from $6,047 in 2000—an increase of $5,693.

The report also noted that median earnings of Hawaii's workers in the past 10 years rose 25.7 percent to $32,912 from $26,180, while family premiums increased 94.2 percent.

The report cited the growing amount spent nationally on health care, weak regulation of insurance companies in many areas, consolidation among insurers, and shifting the growing cost of care for the uninsured onto those with insurance coverage as reasons for the increase in health insurance premiums.