Health-care costs are crushing more and more Americans -- employers and employees alike.
A recent article in a Bowling Green, Ky., newspaper illustrated the problem with the example of a local small-business owner who is now paying $400 per month to cover an employee, compared with just $80 per month six years ago. The owner cited feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, knowing that continued increases are all but certain and that there isn't much he can do about them. Worse, "if anyone in his small group of insured employees had an expensive problem, the rates would rise so much he wouldn't be able to afford it anymore."
According to a Hewitt Associates study of 650 major U.S. firms, 96% of CEOs and CFOs say they are either "critically or significantly" concerned with corporate health-care costs. It's clearly become a huge problem for industry and consumers alike.
There isn't much good news on this front, but here's a smidgeon: According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, after six years in a row of increases in national health spending, the growth rate is expected to be lower for the year that just ended. That's good, but it isn't enough.
Health spending will continue to grow, at a rate faster than the rest of the economy. By 2013, it's expected to hit $3.4 trillion and will consume fully 18% of America's gross domestic product. For now, 2003's spending is expected to be $1.7 trillion, up 7.8% over 2002, when spending was 9.3% higher than in 2001.
Meanwhile, workers are bearing more of the burden as employers shift some of their expenses onto them. Other employers are just throwing in the towel, discontinuing health insurance for employees altogether. The Employee Benefit Research Institute says that while there were 29.5 million non-elderly Americans without insurance in 1984, there were more than 43 million in 2002.
This situation has implications for many people. In the political realm, as those in Congress and presidential wannabes seek the support of voters, they'll increasingly need to address the issue with credible and viable proposals.
Meanwhile, we investors also need to keep rising health-care costs in mind, as they can pinch the profitability of companies. Think of IBM
Here are nine ways to cut your personal health-care costs. If you want more help assessing your personal financial situation, look into our TMF Money Advisor service, which offers live humans providing customized and inexpensive financial planning advice for you. And for lots of guidance on all kinds of insurance, visit our Insurance Center .
Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian doesn't own shares of any companies mentioned in this article. But she is, much to her relief, covered by health insurance.