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Updated Apr 10, 2024

Health Insurance Employer and Employee Costs in 2024

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Max Freedman, Contributing Writer

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Employee health insurance benefits are a must-have for many workers. While health benefits are available through health insurance marketplaces or federal programs, the cost of private health insurance has gone up, leaving many Americans without viable options outside of employer-sponsored coverage. This means that the insurance benefits an employer offers as part of their compensation management program, as well as how the costs of that insurance are shared with the employee, can directly impact a business’s ability to hire and retain the right people. 

Below, we’ve broken down the current state of health insurance costs in the U.S., including how to keep expenditures down and what health insurance prices in 2024 mean for employers.

How are employer-sponsored health insurance costs shared?

Employees are attracted to companies that provide health insurance benefits, but they may be turned off if the financial burden on the worker is too high.

“Employer health benefits are such a crucial part of attracting and retaining talent,” said Michael Stahl, former executive vice president and chief marketing officer at HealthMarkets. “It is essential to get it right.” 

Health insurance costs are generally shared in two ways: premiums and out-of-pocket fees. Premiums are the amount a person (either the employer, employee or a combination) pays for coverage. Some business owners choose to fully cover premiums for their employees, while others subsidize a portion. Some don’t contribute at all. In contrast, out-of-pocket fees are typically paid by the person insured; i.e., the employee.

Out-of-pocket employee costs

Whether a business owner requires their employees to share responsibility for an insurance’s monthly premiums, employees will almost always still have out-of-pocket expenses for their healthcare.

  • The deductible is the amount paid for healthcare services before the insurer begins paying. Most deductibles are yearly amounts. For example, an employee may have a $2,000 annual deductible, which means they must pay out of pocket for $2,000 of medical services before the insurer covers any amount.
  • A copayment, or copay, is the amount employees pay directly to a healthcare provider at the time of service. Not all services or plans require copays. 
  • Coinsurance is the percentage of costs that employees are still responsible for after their deductible, and it applies only to services covered by insurance. For example, if a plan has 20 percent coinsurance, the insurance company will pay 80 percent of each covered medical bill. The employee is responsible for the other 20 percent.

How much does health insurance cost for employees?

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF)’s 25th Employer Health Benefits Survey, the average annual premium cost for an employee in 2023 for employer-sponsored health coverage was $8,431 for single coverage and $23,968 for family coverage, up 7 percent from the previous year. On average, employees covered $1,401 (17 percent) of the premium for single coverage and $6,575 (29 percent) for family coverage.

At the same time, some employers are looking to decrease their employees’ healthcare expenses by covering treatments or expanding what they offer. These services could be considered fringe benefits:

  • Telehealth behavioral mental health services
  • Specialty drug access
  • Concierge services
  • Health and wellness promotions within the workplace
  • Access to centers of excellence
  • Working spouses surcharges

How much does health insurance cost for employers?

Assuming employers shoulder price increases without increasing the burden on employees or adopting other cost-saving measures, the average health insurance cost for employers could reach over $15,000 per employee, reported to Aon. This represents an 8.5 percent jump from the year prior, as well as nearly double the 4.5 percent increase in employer healthcare budgets between 2022 and 2023.

Exact costs depend on a variety of factors, such as the state where the business is located or whether the insurance plan is an HMO or PPO. 

How can employers keep health insurance costs down?

Business owners can follow these steps to lower health insurance costs for themselves as an employer and for their employees.

1. Shop around with an insurance agent or broker.

“With so many different options, understanding and ultimately choosing the right health insurance plan can be confusing,” Stahl said. “The key is to work with an agent who is unbiased and can show you all the options.” 

These options may include group health-sharing plans, traditional group plans, ACA marketplace plans or even level-funded plans, which provide rebates at the end of the year if employees have made few health insurance claims.

“By having the opportunity to learn and compare from multiple carriers, you can be sure you are getting the best benefits structure with the best rates available,” Stahl said. 

2. Encourage proactive healthcare.

According to Rudolf Berzins, president and senior risk advisor of Apex Benefit Group, it costs less to insure people who are proactive about their health. Many insurance companies offer incentives for businesses that encourage their employees to participate in workplace exercise programs or schedule regular visits with their primary care providers. Before selecting an insurance provider, check if any of them will provide discounts or rebates for proactive health initiatives in the workplace. 

3. Shift cost-sharing to employees.

To reduce small business insurance costs, employers can choose health plans that shift more of the costs onto employees. While these contributions can be tax-advantaged, this type of plan means a smaller paycheck for the employee. Furthermore, although this strategy can save money for business owners, it may hurt their ability to recruit and retain employees. [Related article: How Much Workers’ Comp Insurance Do You Need?]

4. Look for prescription drug discounts.

“Pharmacy and prescription coverage [have] a tremendous impact on overall insurance premiums,” Berzins said. 

In addition to saving money on insurance costs by seeking generic drug alternatives within an insurance plan, Berzins recommends investigating whether the insured can get direct discounts. “Contact the pharmaceutical company directly for possible coupons or discounts.”

Bottom LineBottom line

Even as insurance premiums rise, costs may not increase significantly for employees in 2024 if employers take on more of the financial burden and cover more services.

How does employer health insurance work?

Through employer health insurance, employees can receive substantial discounts on their health insurance premiums. Employers often subsidize the cost of the insurance plans they offer, making them significantly more affordable to their employees, who can usually sign up for the insurance plan through the company’s HR department. Typically, employees have a limited range of employer health insurance plans, depending on the health insurance program chosen by the business owner. Companies can opt to provide health maintenance organization (HMO) plans, preferred provider organization (PPO) plans or both.

Shared employer and employee costs

  • Premiums are payments to the health insurer that allow employees to have coverage. They are due at regular intervals, often monthly or quarterly. Under most cost-sharing plans, employers and employees both pay a portion of the premium, with employers often paying the larger share. This means it is almost always cheaper to get health insurance through an employer.
  • Health savings accounts, or HSAs, are tax-free savings accounts that can be used for future medical expenses. An HSA can be paired with certain high-deductible insurance plans. Employees do not need to spend all of the money in their HSA every year, as the funds can be rolled over. Employees may contribute to an HSA on their own, or an employer may also contribute.
  • Flexible spending accounts, or FSAs, are pretax accounts designated for healthcare costs not covered by insurance, including copays and deductibles. FSA funds are set aside by the employer, and the employee must use them by the end of the year. Funds that are not used are sent back to the employer.

When must an employer offer health insurance?

Technically, an employer is never required to offer PPO or HMO health insurance, and employees are not granted the explicit legal right to demand insurance from employers. However, the fines that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) imposes on certain employers who don’t offer health insurance are so severe that employers tend to provide health insurance to avoid these monetary consequences.

According to the ACA, any employer with 50 or more full-time employees (defined as employees who work 30 or more hours per week), or an equivalent number of part-time employees, must offer health insurance to 95 percent of their full-time employees. Should an employer fail to meet this stipulation, they must pay a fee per employee per year to the IRS. Additionally, an employer of 50 or more full-time employees who provides health insurance to one employee is legally obligated to do so for all “similarly situated” employees, meaning employees with similar titles, salaries and job duties.

For employers with 50 or more full-time employees to comply with the ACA, they must offer health insurance that meets ACA-established minimum coverage and affordability requirements. Employer-sponsored health coverage must also be available to the employee’s dependents. Biological and adopted children under the age of 26 qualify as dependents, but spouses, stepchildren and foster children generally do not.

FYIDid you know

Any company with 50 or more full-time employees must offer health insurance to at least 95 percent of its staff. If you fail to meet health insurance requirements under the ACA, you’ll have to pay a fee to the IRS per employee, per year. With COBRA insurance compliance, you may also be required to continue offering health insurance benefits to employees who have left your company.

Can an employee opt out of an employer’s health insurance?

In almost all situations, an employee can opt out of an employer’s health insurance. The exceptions to this rule are if the employer entirely covers employees’ health insurance premiums or if an employment or union agreement requires an employee to use the employer’s insurance.

An employee can opt out of their employer’s health insurance during the company’s open enrollment period. Should an employee choose to forgo their employer’s health insurance, they’ll need to sign up for a healthcare marketplace plan during the national open enrollment period (usually Nov. 1 through Dec. 15 each year). They can also purchase insurance plans directly from certain non-marketplace insurers.

Two common reasons why workers opt out of an employer’s health insurance offering are that the plans have a high deductible or there is a limited range of medical services covered. For workers who decline employer-sponsored insurance in favor of marketplace insurance, the premiums and plan options are determined in part by the individual’s income.

Typically, if the employee’s income is within 400 percent of the federal poverty line for their family size, they may be eligible for a tax credit that reduces healthcare costs by lessening premiums. Notably, the IRS has temporarily eliminated this requirement through tax year 2025, thereby expanding eligibility for those who otherwise qualify for this tax credit.

Upon filing next year’s tax return, if their annual income exceeds the amount they listed on their marketplace application, they will need to pay the IRS the difference between their new tax credit amount and the previous year’s. Conversely, if income decreases, they will get a refund.

Did You Know?Did you know

Rather than providing traditional employer-sponsored health insurance, some businesses will offer each employee an individual coverage Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA). Under an HRA, employees purchase individual health plans via the marketplace, and employers reimburse employees for monthly premiums and out-of-pocket costs.

What health insurance changes are there in 2024?

Employer-sponsored health insurance rates have increased steadily in recent years, a trend expected to continue and amplify in 2024. These rate increases are likely to impact employers and employees alike, so adopting cost-saving measures can be particularly beneficial for small business owners and their teams.

One contributing factor to this rise is the residual impact of inflation. Because contracts between insurers and medical providers tend to be locked in for multiyear spans, economic changes tend to have a delayed effect on the healthcare industry.

Other factors driving the cost of healthcare (and subsequently, insurance rates) include:

  • More Americans are returning to pre-pandemic levels of accessing care, thereby increasing services rendered.
  • The increased incidence of chronic and more expensive conditions, along with delays in medical services, necessitate longer, more frequent and more complex care.
  • A spike in the use of specialty drugs, including those for diabetes and weight loss, which drives up the costs of these medications.

Although deductibles are continuing to increase, there are also more cost-sharing options between employers and employees, Berzins explained. This increase in options means business owners can make more plans available to their employees than in prior years. In many cases, this has lowered the costs for employers.

Meanwhile, employees can reduce their expenses by choosing different tiers of insurance within their group health plan, said Berzins. 

There is a definite upside for employees who don’t have many medical expenses. “These changes will help stabilize premiums,”said Berzins. 

What is the minimum employer contribution for health insurance?

There is no national rule governing the minimum employer contribution for health insurance. Many state legislatures have passed regulations that require employers to contribute at least 50 percent of employee health insurance costs. In 2023, KFF found that employers contributed an average of 83 percent of the premium for individual coverage and 71 percent for family plans.

The ideal contribution percentage for your business will depend on your industry, the size of your company and the types of health insurance benefits you offer. Consider researching contribution rates in your geographic region and for your type of business, and comparing those with what you can provide while remaining profitable.

Sean Peek and Katharine Paljug contributed to this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

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Max Freedman, Contributing Writer
Max Freedman is a content writer who has written hundreds of articles about small business strategy and operations, with a focus on finance and HR topics. He's also published articles on payroll, small business funding, and content marketing. In addition to covering these business fundamentals, Max also writes about improving company culture, optimizing business social media pages, and choosing appropriate organizational structures for small businesses.
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