While wages for many may finally be edging higher, health costs are growing a whole lot faster.
As 2019 open enrollment season begins, most workers who have employer health plans will see moderate increases in premiums and deductibles, but it may not feel like they’re getting much of a bargain.
“Deductibles went up again this year, … and what we’ve seen with worker contributions is in line with the trend we’ve seen the past couple of years,” said Matthew Rae, co-senior researcher at the Kaiser Family Foundation.
The average deductible for a worker in an employer health plan this year is $1,573, up 4.5% from $1,505 in 2017, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation employer health benefits survey. Benefits analysts say they expect increases to be modest again for 2019.
But the longer-term trend tells a bigger story of why even small increases make workers feel like they’re losing the battle on out-of-pocket health costs. While deductibles have more than doubled from 2008 to 2018, wages have only risen 26% over that period.
More large companies are trying to rein in overall costs by rewarding workers who take steps to get healthier. According to the Kaiser survey, nearly 40% of large employers provided cash incentives of up to $500 this year for employees who completed health screening and health risk assessment programs.
Employers are also trying to coax workers to make their healthcare dollars go further by offering wider coverage for less-expensive options like retail clinics and telemedicine visits where doctors diagnose and treat patients remotely over video, online, or by phone.
Three-quarters of large employers now pay for telemedicine visits with doctors over the phone or video chat, up from just 27% in 2015. While worker adoption is rising, Kaiser researchers found telemedicine visits still make up less than 1% of employee interactions with doctors.
Next year, watch for employers to make a bigger push to integrate telemedicine more fully into benefit options.