Steady Rise in Cost of

Insurance Through Work

U.S. workers who get health insurance coverage through their employers paid an average of 79 percent more in 2003 than they did in 1996, according to a report published yesterday.

Employers paid an average of 89 percent more, the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality found. The agency's survey of 48,000 U.S. employers also found a steady increase in premiums in more recent years.

"Premiums in 2003 increased by 9.2 percent for single coverage, 10 percent for employee-plus one coverage, and 9.2 percent for family coverage over the prior year, continuing a trend of increasing premiums observed each year since the start of the survey in 1996," the report states.

The agency's Medical Expenditure Panel Survey found that health insurance premiums have increased every year since the start of the survey in 1996.

"The average employee contributed $2,283 for family coverage in 2003, compared to only $1,275 in 1996," the agency said.

An estimated 63 percent of Americans get their insurance through their employers or through a family member's job.

Drug May Hold Promise

For Kidney Transplants

Transplanted kidneys may survive three or four years longer when treated with an experimental Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. drug instead of the standard drug cyclosporine, a study released yesterday showed.

A test of 218 transplant recipients at 22 centers found that the six-month rejection rate for kidneys treated with either drug was equally low. But tests showed that the organs functioned much better when receiving the experimental drug belatacept, according to the study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Journal editors Julie Ingelfinger and Robert Schwartz cautioned that doctors "will need much more experience with belatacept before recommending it as a routine replacement for cyclosporine."

Bristol-Myers Squibb paid for the study. Of the 15 named authors, four are employees of the company and seven have financial ties to it.

Cyclosporine-type drugs, while preventing the body from rejecting an organ, "can produce toxicity within the kidney, and ultimately many kidneys suffer significant damage. So early on they do an excellent job, but over the long term they do not provide significant improvement in the life of the kidney," said Flavio Vincenti, chief author of the study.

Expanded Care Urged

For Family Caregivers

Family members caring for sick or disabled relatives need expanded government health care, according to authors of a nationwide survey.

Sixteen million working-age adults provide such care and most, about 9 million, have their own chronic health problems, reported the Commonwealth Fund, a research and advocacy group.

The report said Congress could help by expanding Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program to cover caregivers.

"Allowing Medicare buy-in for caregivers of Medicare beneficiaries, or tax credits for caregivers' medical expenses, could ease their financial burden," said Sara Collins, co-author of the study, which involved 4,052 U.S. adults 19 and older contacted between September 2003 and January 2004.

-- From News Services