California's Group Health Premiums Outpace National Average

News Updates

Premiums for employer-provided health coverage in California have risen 185 percent since 2002—more than five times the state's overall inflation rate—according to a new report by the nonprofit California HealthCare Foundation.

In 2013 average monthly premiums for single coverage in California were $572, compared with $490 nationally. For family coverage, monthly premiums were $1,442 in California versus $1,363 nationally.

The findings are based on a survey of California's employee benefit managers conducted from May to September 2013.

The proportion of California employers offering health care coverage fell from 69 percent in 2000 to 61 percent in 2013, the researchers found. Employee coverage was offered at a higher rate by larger firms, firms with higher wages and those with some union workers.

Availability of Plan Options

In California as across the U.S., high-deductible health plans with a savings option (either a health savings account or health reimbursement arrangement), known as consumer-directed health care, had the lowest average monthly premium compared with other plan types. However, a smaller percentage of covered workers in California were offered the option of a consumer-directed plan (23 percent of workers in California versus 43 percent nationally).

In contrast, more than three-fourths of covered California workers had a health maintenance organization (HMO) option in 2013, which was the case for just one-third of covered workers in other states. Preferred provider organization (PPO) plans were available to three-quarters of workers in both California and across the U.S.

Among other survey findings:

  • One in four California firms reduced benefits or increased cost-sharing in the past year.
  • More than 40 percent of benefits managers in California were likely to increase what workers pay for their premiums in 2014, and 34 percent planned to increase employees’ deductibles.
  • California workers paid an average of 22 percent of the total premium for single coverage and 33 percent for family coverage in 2013, significantly higher shares than in the previous year.
  • Nearly one-third of covered workers in small firms had a deductible of $1,000 or more for single coverage in 2013, up from just 7 percent in 2006. In large firms only 9 percent had a deductible of $1,000 or more.

Among California firms that offered the same health plans in 2012 and 2013 (fixed enrollment), the average family-coverage premium increase for those plans was 5.7 percent. When the calculation included California firms that changed plans or had workers who switched plans (variable enrollment), the average family premium increase was 4 percent.

Stephen Miller, CEBS, is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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