Monday, September 1, 2003

Health-care forecast bleak


Cost expected still higher through end of decade, report says

By John Eckberg
The Cincinnati Enquirer

American workers and the companies that employ them can expect health-care costs to continue to rise through the end of the decade, a new report from the Employment Policy Foundation says.

In a review of the workplace that coincides with Labor Day, the non-profit think tank based in Washington, D.C., estimated that the per-employee share of health benefits paid by the employer in 2002 reached $4,233 for workers with families.

By the end of the decade, the cost of that coverage could top $11,000.

"Whether or not it rises that much depends on a lot of factors," said Sharron DiMario, president and executive director of Employer Health Care Alliance, a non-profit association of health-care purchasers in Greater Cincinnati.

Those factors include:

• How far employers move into consumer-driven health plan strategies.

• Advances in disease management and prevention.

• Reduction in diseases through better nutrition and exercise.

"Consumer expectations of care, what we get and what we're paying for will have a big impact and will have to change," she said.

"Everybody wants the most current technology or drug but expects somebody else to pay for it."

The non-profit Employment Policy Foundation also found:

• Despite rising unemployment since January 2002, the total number of unemployed and the unemployment rate have been relatively unchanged because employment growth has outpaced labor force growth.

• Medical-care costs are rising at about twice the rate of inflation.

• Dual-earning married couples make up 41 percent of working households.

• Unmarried individuals, most without children, accounted for 42 percent of working households in 2002.

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E-mail jeckberg@enquirer.com.




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