Health insurance premiums rise in 2009

The cost of employer-sponsored health insurance rose modestly again this year, but researchers predict a return to bigger increases that may eventually produce crippling premiums if left unchecked.

Meanwhile, more workers with single coverage are facing high-deductible plans that make them pay $1,000 or more out of pocket before coverage starts, according to a report released Tuesday by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research and Educational Trust, a nonprofit research organization affiliated with the American Hospital Association.

The average annual premium -- the amount charged for a fully insured policy -- rose 5 percent for the third straight year to surpass $13,000 for employer-sponsored family health coverage.

Employers picked up about 74 percent of that cost, while workers paid the rest. Single coverage remained relatively flat at an average of $4,824, with employers paying 84 percent.

The 2009 increases represent much smaller growth than just a few years ago. Premiums increased anywhere from 10 percent to 13 percent from 2000 to 2004.

But the 2009 numbers still outpaced inflation, which actually fell less than 1 percent, and Kaiser Chief Executive Officer Drew Altman said the slower growth likely will not last.

"We've historically seen these peaks and valleys before, and we always have a bounce-back effect," he said.