- Associated Press - Monday, October 31, 2016

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (AP) - As the health plans of Massachusetts families have changed over the years, so has the cost of treatment.

While employee contributions to their health insurance premiums and deductibles rose more slowly between 2010 and 2015 than past years, the cost of care has risen at a more rapid rate than income, a newly released study by the Commonwealth Fund shows.

Nationwide, families spent an average of 10.1 percent of their income on health insurance premiums and deductibles last year. The average percentage of household income spent is lower in Massachusetts - about 7.3 percent on premium contributions and deductibles - primarily due to Bay State families earning a higher income than the national average.

“The good news is that premiums in employer plans are growing more slowly on average, as is the amount employees are being asked to contribute,” said Sara Collins, vice president for health care coverage and the study’s lead author. “Unfortunately, many employees with moderate incomes aren’t feeling the benefits of these slowdowns, because they haven’t yet experienced the sustained growth in their income needed to keep up with health costs.”

Health care premiums for single Massachusetts residents averaged $6,519 last year. Family coverage averaged at $18,454 in annual premiums.

More than half of the entire U.S. population - about 154 million - received health care through their employers and were responsible for just under a quarter of their premiums - $1,255 for single employees, $4,710 for families.

The rate at which premiums rose and the amount employees were asked to contribute grew at a slower rate between 2010 and 2015 compared to 2006 through 2010.

About 11 million people across the nation purchased a health plan through a state or federal marketplace.

Whether employer provided or found through the health connector, high deductible health plans have become the norm. In the past decade, the percentage of plans requiring deductibles jumped from 66 percent in 2006 to 85 percent last year. With more plans requiring a deductible, the average has doubled.

Bay staters paid just over $1,200, on average, last year. The average deductible was $603 in 2006.

While deductibles are on the rise in Massachusetts, costs remain lower than the national average of $1,541 last year.

Massachusetts has the highest rate of insured residents of any state in the country - 95 percent of adults 18 to 65 years old and 98 percent of children - largely thanks to the state’s health care reform law passed a decade ago. The law required all adults to have health insurance and all companies with more than 10 full-time employees to offer it.

Residents are now more likely to go to their doctor’s office instead of the emergency room and take advantage of preventative care.

Authors of the Commonwealth Fund study say the findings show both that the Affordable Care Act coverage mandates have been “absorbed relatively easily” by U.S. companies and that it offers evidence as to why many across America consider the cost of healthcare too high.

“Middle-income families continue to see a growing share of their household budgets going to health care,” the study reads. “Where employees have less generous health plans as well as lower median incomes, the combination is particularly toxic. People with high deductibles relative to income are far more likely to avoid getting needed care than those with more affordable out-of-pocket costs. For those who do get health care, large medical bills can quickly exceed assets.”

With health care costs expected to continue rising at a higher rate than incomes in America, researchers say more federal policy is needed to slow the rising cost of medical treatment.

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Information from: The Springfield (Mass.) Republican, https://www.masslive.com/news/

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