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The Takeaway: Insurance Premiums Surged in 2011; Docs Admit to Overtreating Patients

What Goes Up ... Must Go Up? Health insurance premiums may be slated to rise less next year than they have in over a decade, but perhaps that's because 2011 saw unprecedented surges. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, annual premiums for some employer-sponsored family  health insurance policies surpassed $15,000 this year, a climb of 9 percent over 2010; premiums for individual coverage rose 8 percent. Between 2009-2010, premiums for families and individuals rose just 5 and 3 percent, respectively.

Because employers split health insurance premium costs with workers, businesses likely reacted to these cost increases by freezing retirement account contributions or giving a flat wage or smaller increase to their workers, said Helen Darling, CEO of the National Business Group on Health.

"(Workers) basically are giving their pay raise to the health system," said Darling, who was not involved with the Kaiser study. "It's really bad news."

Keep in mind that we're only talking insurance coverage here, and employer-sponsored coverage at that. Health care costs in general also continue to rise, leaving many (with and without insurance) struggling to afford medical care. Lack of money to pay for medical bills and medications is consistently Americans' top financial concern in an ongoing monthly Consumer Reports survey. And this year, the percentage of people in Consumer Reports' annual survey who report taking risks with prescription medications in order to save money rose to 28 percent. These risks included not filling a prescription, taking expired meds, skipping a scheduled dose or splitting pills in half without consulting a doctor or pharmacist, and sharing a prescription with someone else. The percentage of people who report skimping on medical care overall (including not scheduling appointments or declining certain tests) rose to 48 percent. 

Docs Admit to Overtreating Patients: Maybe skimping on care is not all a bad thing-in general,  Americans get too much health care, our doctors say. In a new poll of primary care physicians, nearly half said patients received too much medical care and more than a quarter said they were ordering more tests, prescribing more drugs or diagnosing people with symptomless diseases more than they'd like to. So why are they doing this? The most common reasons cited were fear of malpractice lawsuits, need to live up to 'performance measures' and too little time to just listen to patients (doctors also said that while of course they would never order extra tests because it provided them with extra income, they thought other doctors did). While 'too much care' might not sound like a bad thing, it drives up health care costs-and could also put patients at risk.

"When you do anything to somebody, whether it is an intervention or a test, you are putting them in to the healthcare system in a way that exposes them to risk," said Dr. Brenda Sirovich of the VA Medical Center in White River Junction, Vermont. "Unnecessary care is potentially harmful."

Wednesday Quick Hits: A few patients get medical marijuana from the federal government ... 16 people have now died from listeria-tainted cantaloupes ... Arthritis symptoms in obese mice diminish with exercise ... Workers who take 401(k) advice get better investment returns ... Men should be screened for bowel cancer earlier than women ... Small business group asks Supreme Court to strike down entire health care law, not just insurance mandate ... And are boomers deluded about their future health?

See "In the News" for more on current events, entertainment and how it all relates to you.

(Photo: Jorg Greuel/Getty Images)

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