U.S. workers paying more for healthcare: report

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Healthcare costs for Americans who get medical coverage through an employer hit a record $16,771 per family this year, and they are having to pay more themselves, a report released on Monday showed.

Beds lie empty in the emergency room of Tulane University Hospital in New Orleans February 14, 2006. REUTERS/Lee Celano

Employers trying to save money in the current recession have forced workers to take on a greater portion of their healthcare costs, according to Milliman Inc., the consulting firm that prepared the report.

That trend could accelerate the longer the recession lasts, the report stated.

An estimated 170 million Americans get their health insurance through an employer. Healthcare costs, both payroll deductions and out-of-pocket medical expenses, now eat up 14 percent of the average household income of about $50,000 for these people, the study found.

Costs grew by an average of $1,162 per family this year from an average of $15,609 last year, the report said.

While employers’ contribution to workers’ monthly premiums increased by 5.4 percent over the past year, employees’ contributions went up 14.7 percent, the third straight year of double-digit increases, the report said.

Employers still pay the lion’s share of healthcare costs, with an average contribution of $9,947 per worker. Employees paid an average of $4,004 in payroll deductions and an additional $2,820 in out-of-pocket expenses, the report found.

The report showed that costs are rising but not quite as rapidly as they had in prior years. Cost-control measures including efforts to reduce unnecessary medical procedures have shown some results, as the rate of growth declined this year for a third straight year, to 7.4 percent.

But the recession could lead to further cost growth as hospitals, doctors and other providers may be forced to increase their rates to stay afloat, the report said.

President Barack Obama has set a goal of signing into law by the end of this year legislation that would overhaul the U.S. healthcare system, seeking to cut costs and ensure that millions of people now without health insurance get coverage.

The new report is the latest to illustrate the high cost of healthcare in the United States, whose system is the world’s most expensive. Healthcare costs burden many U.S. businesses and families and eat away at federal and state budgets.

Reporting by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Will Dunham