In my last post, I discussed the declining underlying cost trend for health care benefits. This data showed that costs are still going up but at a slower rate than in the past.

The just released 2011 Employer Health Benefits Survey, which is conducted annually by the Kaiser Family Foundation/Health Research & Educational Trust (HRET), shows a similar increase for the year. However, the survey covers a broader range of companies than many of the health care cost surveys conducted by the major consulting firms and deserves a closer look. Overall, the Kaiser/HRET survey reflects the responses of 2,088 randomly selected, non-federal public and private firms with three or more employees that completed its full survey.

So what did the Kaiser/HRET survey find? Here are a few highlights. The entire Kaiser/HRET survey report is available for download here. The report provides important data points for CFOs who want to benchmark their health benefit programs against similar organizations.

  • Average premiums for family coverage topped $15,000 per year for the first time.
  • This number represents a 9 percent increase from last year, which is a significant increase from the 3 percent increase reported in last year’s survey.
  • The average premium for family coverage is $1,256 per month or $15,073 per year and the average premium for single coverage in 2011 is $452 per month or $5,429 per year. The study report provides premium breakdowns by company size, type of health plan (PPO, HMO, etc.), geography, industry, and company characteristics that can be used for benchmarking purposes.
  • Average annual premiums are lower for high deductible health plans with a savings option (HDHP/SOs) than for other types of plans. One examples of a savings options paired with a HDHP is a health savings account. Premiums for HDHP/SOs average $4,793 for single coverage and $13,704 for family coverage.
  • The health care reform provisions extending coverage to adult children up to age 26 led to 2.3 million adult children added to their parents’ health insurance coverage. However, these new health care reform provisions are responsible for only one to two percentage points of this year’s premium increases.
  • Small firms with less than 200 employees are most likely to offer only one health plan option to their employees. Other firms tend to offer either one or two plan options, with just a few firms offering three or more plan options. More than one-quarter (27 percent) of the largest firms with 5,000 or more employees offer three or more plan options.
  • Enrollment in HDHP/SOs continues to increase. This year, 17 percent of covered workers are enrolled in HDHP/SOs compared to 13 percent in 2010 and 8 percent in 2009. Employees of smaller companies with less than 200 employees are more likely to be enrolled in these plans. Nearly one-quarter (23 percent) of small firm employees are enrolled in HDHP/SOs compared to 15 percent of employees in firms with 200 or more employees.