Healthcare For A Family Now Costs More Than Groceries To Feed Them For A Year

By Tara Culp-Ressler for ThinkProgress

As medical costs continue to rise, the annual health expenses for a family of four now exceed the typical of cost of their groceries during the same time period, according to a new report from consulting firm Milliman, Inc.

The firm estimates that a typical family of four with an employer-sponsored health plan will end up incurring about $22,030 for all of their medical costs in 2013. That represents a 6.3 increase from last year, when the typical family racked up $20,728.

Some of that total sum ends up being covered by the family’s health insurance plan — the firm’s analysts found that employers paid about 58 percent of the total health care costs — but a big chunk of it falls onto the family itself. The average family pays more than $9,000 in payroll deductions and out-of-pocket bills for their health care, which is more than they typically spend on groceries and gas for an entire year:

“It is a huge expense,” Chris Girod, principal and consulting actuary at Milliman Inc. said in an interview. “Although the trends are slowing down, the total dollar amount has risen $1,300 per year each of the last four years.”

Meanwhile, the share a family and employees pay continues to rise as employers push more costs onto their workers. Therefore, the total share of the overall costs continues to mount, surpassing other household milestones like food and a year’s worth of gas.

“The total share of this cost borne directly by the family — $9,144 in payroll deductions and out-of-pocket costs — now exceeds the cost of groceries for the (Milliman Medical Index’s) typical family of four,” the study says. “The out-of-pocket cost alone — $3,600 for co-pays, coinsurance and other cost sharing, is more than the average U.S. household spends on gas in a year.”

That’s been a consistent trend over the past several years. As the cost of health care increases, Americans’ contributions to their health plans have risen at a much faster rate than their employers’ share. Since 2003, workers in every single state have had to increase their contributions to their family health plans by nearly 75 percent. At the same time, workers’ wages have stagnated. As struggling Americans aren’t able to afford the treatment they need, they’re putting off doctor’s visits and skipping out on their medication.

And, if the regular health costs that a typical American family incurs over the course of the year already represent such a big expense, it’s easy to see how just one catastrophic medical event could plunge Americans into serious debt. The average trip to an emergency room costs 40 percent more than what most Americans spend on monthly rent. It’s even worse for those with ongoing conditions that need expensive treatment — for instance, the Americans who are battling cancer are twice as likely to go bankrupt, even if they have health insurance.