Rising Healthcare Costs Squeezing Utahns

Health care costs, including health insurance premiums, continue on an upward trajectory. 61 percent of Utahns obtain coverage through their employer, higher than the national average of 49 percent. From 2006 to 2016, premiums saw an increase of about one-third. During that time, more of the financial responsibility has shifted from employers to employees thanks to high-deductible plans and greater cost-sharing.

Utah Foundation, a Salt Lake City-based, non-partisan think tank, has published a research report that explores the past decade’s changes. “Paying a Premium: What’s Driving Health Insurance Costs in Utah?” is the latest in a series of reports on health care, which was named by voters as their top concern in the 2016 Utah Priorities Project.

The report found enrollment in high-deductible plans in Utah has jumped during the study period from 3 to 30 percent. The average total premium for an employer-sponsored individual plan increased by an inflation-adjusted 34 percent, with 30 percent for a family plan. Additionally, the average deductible for individual and family employer-sponsored plans both nearly doubled from 2006 to 2016. In spite of all these increases, they are modest compared to those seen during the late 1990s and early 2000s.

The loss of federal cost-sharing reduction subsidies has also seriously impacted health care costs. From 2017 to 2018, in Salt Lake County, the benchmark silver plan on the federal marketplace rose 62 percent. Concerning the recent nationwide increase of insurance premiums, the Utah Foundation found some key factors are the rising cost of healthcare, an increased risk in the health insurance pool, the loss of federal subsidies, continued uncertainty in regard to the future direction of national health care policy, and consolidation in the insurance industry.

“Regardless of which market health insurance is purchased from, out-of-pocket expenses for medical care through increased deductibles and cost-sharing may place a financial burden on individuals and families,” the report said. “While many may be able to afford the monthly payment, the costs that accompany using the plan benefits may push health care costs into the unaffordable range.”

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