Health Insurance:

Looking Back -- And Ahead

Introduction and Profiles by Christopher J. Gearon

Annual increases in health insurance premiums have slowed, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation and Health Research Educational Trust survey, averaging 6.1 percent this year compared with 7.7 percent in 2006. These slower increases reflect several profitable years for the insurance industry, experts say, creating greater competition for enrollees.

Federal workers will be among the biggest groups to benefit from this trend next year, paying on average just $2.73 more for coverage out of each paycheck. Most other workers, however, will see a bigger hit. Premiums have grown four times faster than workers' earnings since 2001, according to the Kaiser survey.

With the average insured worker paying $3,281 for family coverage, polls show that health-care costs are high on people's minds. Although most large employers continue to offer insurance, some lower-wage workers say they can't afford it. Meanwhile, those in firms with fewer than 200 employees paid far more this year toward the cost of family coverage than employees at large companies but less for individual coverage, the Kaiser survey showed. "A lot of small companies are considering . . . having [workers] get it on their own," rather than through company-sponsored plans, sometimes contributing to their workers' insurance purchases, said Bob Burns, an agent with Yergey Insurance Agency in Manassas.

As James Eyler, a supervisor at a manufacturing firm in Westminster, Md., put it, "Nobody's insurance is what it used to be."

Next: Area residents grade their health plans and choices. »

© 2007 The Washington Post Company