Health insurance: US paying more for less, report finds

“An estimated 9 million adults ages 19 to 64 lost a job with health benefits and became uninsured during this period.”

Michael Ramlet, a health economist at the right-leaning American Action Forum, says one reason health insurance costs actually slowed during the recession is that people stopped getting anything but the most essential health services.

“That is starting to change as you have this slow recovery,” Ramlet said in a telephone interview.

He thinks expenses will go up even more as the Affordable Care Act’s requirements kick in. These include the so-called essential health benefits — the minimum requirements for the health insurance plans that people will buy on the open market starting in 2014. These aren’t the same plans as those offered by employers, but Ramlet thinks the federal requirements will make these new retail plans pricey.

“They are very rich,” he said. “Economists would warn you there there is no free lunch and more things cost more money.”

Ramlet believes this could affect employer-sponsored insurance. Already some federal requirements such as provision of free health screenings are making employers think twice about offering insurance, he said. “Honestly I don’t think employers are going to stay in the insurance game for very long,” Ramlet said.

Just this week, the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans said more than 85 percent of employers surveyed say they plan to keep offering health insurance to workers. But Ramlet believes those numbers will fall as health insurance becomes more and more expensive.

He also predicts more people will gamble and not buy health insurance at all — although the health reform law is designed to encourage people to buy it. That could be a risky option when an unanticipated medical emergency can quickly rack up hundreds or even of thousands of dollars in bills.

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