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Health insurance not getting cheaper

One of the larger bills most people pay — their monthly health insurance premium — is rising rapidly amid the intense national debate over health care costs.

But because most employers pay part of the cost and the rest is deducted from workers' paychecks, consumers are insulated from the full cost of their health insurance and the escalation often gets overlooked.

"That makes no sense to me," said David Hodges, a Santa Rosa health insurance broker. "It's a pocketbook issue."

In California, the average annual premium last year was $13,400, up 9 percent from 2007, a rate three times higher than the overall rise in the cost of living. Employers on average paid about three-fourths and workers paid the rest, according to the California Healthcare Foundation.

Since 2002, health insurance premiums have more than doubled.

The prognosis for businesses and their employees next year is for another round of rate increases, some in double digits, insurance industry experts said. Many of those impacts will be presented to employees during open enrollment later this year.

Bucking the trend was CalPERS, which provides health coverage for nearly 1.3 million active and retired California public employees. In June, it announced an overall 3.2 percent premium increase for 2010, the lowest in 14 years.

In Sonoma County, nearly 56 percent of the population has job-related health care coverage and another 9 percent has privately purchased plans, according to the 2007 California Health Interview Survey.

Eight percent of county residents are uninsured and the rest have government-sponsored coverage, including Medicare and Medicaid.

Businesses and insurers are coping with the cost crunch in a variety of ways, including higher deductibles, more emphasis on wellness programs and requiring workers to pay more of the costs.

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