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Premiums Grow Modestly In Biggest Health Insurance Market

In the health insurance market that affects the most people, premiums are continuing a recent trend of rising modestly. The Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research & Educational Trust released their annual report on the employer market Wednesday.

The report focuses on the largest part of the health insurance system by far: people covered through their jobs.

For them, family premiums rose an average of 3 percent this year. That's after 4 percent growth last year. Drew Altman is president of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

"Premium growth remains low, and really strikingly low if you've been watching this as long as I have, by historical standards," he said during a web briefing with reporters.

Premiums grew roughly three times as fast in the early 2000s.

But recent trends aren't all good news for workers. The percent of them in high-deductible plans has been increasing and now stands at 29 percent, according to Dr. Ken Anderson of the Health Research & Educational Trust.  

"I think this illustrates the continued strategy that some employers are using to shift the financial burden to employees," he said.

That's because employees have to pay for almost everything until they hit their deductible.

The Kaiser Family Foundation's Drew Altman says it's part of a years-long shift for most Americans, from more comprehensive insurance with higher premiums, to skimpier coverage with more skin in the game.

"It's most pronounced in employers with less than 200 employees," he said. "It's both good and bad, and I think it's the biggest change in health care in America that we are not really debating."

The change is good for businesses and their healthy employees. It's bad for sicker people who end up spending more out-of-pocket.

The reason Altman says we're not really debating it is that so much focus is on the Obamacare exchange, or marketplace. It's for people who buy their own insurance outside of work, which is less than 10 percent of Americans. It's going through bigger changes that lead to less stability and higher premiums than the employer market.