Consumers who are already scrambling to cover their food and gas bills aren't getting any relief from high healthcare costs: Premiums rose 5 percent this year, leaving the typical family with a $3,354 tab for coverage. Since 1999, premiums have more than doubled while wages rose a modest 34 percent and inflation rose 29 percent.
Premiums aren't the only healthcare cost causing financial pain, according to a closely watched annual survey released today by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research & Educational Trust. More workers this year are also facing higher deductibles, thanks in part to an increase in consumer-driven health plans, which as I've noted before aren't exactly wildly popular with consumers. The survey found that in 2008, 18 percent of workers in employer-sponsored plans have a deductible of at least $1,000, a sharp increase over the 12 percent with a deductible of that size last year. "We may be seeing the tip of the iceberg of a trend toward less comprehensive, skimpier benefits for people, with higher deductibles and higher out-of pocket-costs," said Kaiser President and CEO Drew Altman at a press conference announcing the survey findings.
If that's the case, then now more than ever you need to be scrutinizing your healthcare policy and those "explanation of benefits" documents closely to be sure you're not paying too much. Many of the hidden costs that turn up in limited benefit plans, such as caps on certain types of services and additional deductibles that kick in for hospital stays, for example, also show up in comprehensive plans. And even if your plan doesn't nickel and dime you to death, you can take steps to save on your medical bills.