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Wednesday, October 5, 2011 - 10:48am

Medical Premiums On the Rise

Premiums for employer-sponsored healthcare coverage rose 9 percent for families this year. That’s according to an annual survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation. More employees are opting for high-deductible plans and experts say that’s worrying.

The 2011 increase is a big jump from past years. By comparison, premiums for family coverage rose by just 3 percent in 2010.

In the past decade, average family policy costs have risen more than 110 percent. Doctors say with more patients choosing for plans with deductibles, many people are ignoring routine medical care to reduce out of pocket costs.

Dr. Thad Riley, a family physician in Statesboro, says that changes how patients access care, which has implications for everyone.

“Now, you know you have to reach maybe a $1,000 deductible, and if you’re sick, and you have diabetes and heart disease and all that, you’re going to have pay the first $1,000," he said in a phone interview. "That’s going to hold back these sick people and then they tend to crash and go to the emergency room more. And emergency room care is ultimately the worst and the most expensive care.”

Riley says the bulk of the patients he sees are people who suffer from a number of illnesses and simply cannot avoid care.

As more patients purchase policies with deductibles that have higher initial costs for care, the conversation in the examining room is changing, says Dr. Mitzi Rubin of Marietta.

“Several years ago, patients wouldn’t care what an x-ray cost," she said. "They wouldn’t care what a mammogram cost. They wouldn’t care what medicine we put them on. And now we have to be so conscious of, is this necessary?”

Dr. Rubin says the shift will help patients understand the entire cost of medical care, and may reduce the number of unnecessary tests.

The survey found average individual policies cost $5,400 this year, while family coverage topped $15,000.