US health insurance prices went up nearly 30% over the past year

The latest consumer price index for health insurance reports an increase of 28.2% since September 2022
US health insurance prices went up nearly 30% over the past year
Photo: Mario Anzuoni (Reuters)
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Health insurance prices reported their highest yearly annual increase since the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) began posting them in 2005.

According to the latest data, published on Oct. 13 (pdf), the price of health insurance increased 28.2% from September 2021 to September 2022. That is one of the steepest increases of all products tracked by the BLS report—only eggs (30.5% increase), margarine (44%), airfare (42%), food in employee facilities such as canteens (91%), and fuel and gas (58% and 33%, respectively) had higher increases year-over-year.

The increase was steady through the year, with an increase of over 2% month-over-month.

An increase beyond inflation

Health insurance prices increased more in the past year than they did in the entire decade between January 2006 and January 2016. The only comparable increase was registered between September 2018 and September 2020, when insurance prices went up more than 38% in two years—although no one year had a jump as high as the latest.

Beyond inflation, the reasons behind the increase in health insurance costs is to be found in the fallout from covid. The pandemic drove up costs for insurers that had to pay for testing, treatment, and vaccines without out-of-pocket charges and copays for patients. Now, those expenses are being paid by policy holders under the guise of increased premiums. In 2021, for instance, this caused an estimated increase of 8.4% on premiums on the Affordable Care Act marketplace.

This doesn’t mean, however, that the actual cost of policies went up by 28%. Since tracking the cost of insurance is complicated, the BLS does so by measuring the profits of health insurance companies—if those go up, consumer health insurance prices are assumed to go up, too. Yet the trend usually has a sharp correction toward the end of the year, when insurance companies also share information on the costs of services they provided, which lower their profits.

Still, according to the latest predictions by the consulting firm Mercer, health insurance prices are not done rising, and will go up even more significantly in 2023. Employer-based coverage especially, which has so far only had moderate increases (4.4%) is expected to go up by an additional 5% in the coming year.