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Employees in small firms pay 18 percent more for health insurance when adjusted for value of plan

New York, NY--Employees in the smallest firms (1-9 workers) pay an average 18% more in health insurance premiums than those in the largest firms (1,000+ workers), when actuarial value--the percentage of total medical expenses paid by a health plan--is taken into account, a new Commonwealth Fund-supported study finds.

In this look at employer-provided health coverage, researchers found that type of health plan is the key determinant of both actuarial value and adjusted cost. The adjusted premiums are 25% higher for indemnity plans and 18% higher for preferred provider organization (PPO) plans than HMOs. Higher administrative costs from marketing, medical underwriting (the process by which insurers assess medical risk), and greater risks are some of the factors that contribute to the difference in premiums, say Jon Gabel, vice president of the Center for Studying Health System Change, and colleagues, authors of the new study published in the May/June issue of the journal Health Affairs.

Employees in states with large urban populations, such as California, Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania, also tend to get more value for their premium dollar than those in rural states, according to this first ever state by state estimate of the cost of the adjusted price of health insurance.

When authors adjusted premium costs for the quality of benefits, Maine, West Virginia, Wyoming, and Wisconsin were the states where employers and employees got the least value for their money. For example, the average adjusted premium for California employees with average benefits is $2,833, compared with $3,203 on average across all states, and $4,001 in Wyoming, the state with the highest average premium. Other states with the lowest adjusted premiums are Hawaii ($2,717), Alabama ($2,981) and Arizona ($2,983).

"Indemnity insurers have greater market share in rural states, so employees and employers in those states end up paying higher adjusted premiums.
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Contact: Mary Mahon
mm@cmwf.org
212-606-3853
Commonwealth Fund
9-May-2006


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