NCHC Writer
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     (NAPS)-Knowing what to expect can help you prepare for the future-especially when it comes to health care costs.

     A new study shows U.S. health care costs will rise 2 to 2 1/2 times as fast as the rate of inflation over the next five years. The middle class will be hit the hardest, with middle-income families paying a greater percentage of their in come than any other group.

     Married couples with children will pay 5.5 percent above inflation and single-parent families will pay as much as ten percent above inflation for their health care costs, according to the study, Changes in the Growth in Health Care Spending: Implications for Consumers, commissioned by the National Coalition on Health Care (NCHC).

     Costs are expected to increase over the next five years. While increases will affect all income brackets, middle-income households with incomes between $20,000 and $60,000 will lose the highest percentage of their incomes to health ca re inflation.

     Had health care costs remained at a constant share of household budgets during the 1990s, middle-income households would have between $500 and $1000 more to spend or save in 1997.

     The study estimates the typical family will directly spend $2000 on health care: health insurance, medical services, pharmaceuticals and medical supplies during 1997. Nearly 50 percent of out-of-pocket expenses is due to the high cost of health insurance premiums. Part of why those premiums are so expensive is the high cost of caring for 42 million Americans who are uninsured.

     Many of America’s small businesses will also be affected. Health care expenditures are expected to increase faster than wages at most businesses. The small business community, those who employ fewer than 100 and lack the economic lev erage of larger employers, may pay as much as 6.3 percent more in premiums.

     “Unfortunately, the nation’s dominant employer, small business, is already being hit by the return of rising health care costs,” said Dr. Henry E. Simmons, president of the NCHC. “With trends indicating a significant increase in healt h insurance premiums, small businesses, without bargaining power, are and will continue to be most at risk.”

     The study was funded by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation in support of the National Coalition on Health Care’s multi-year national campaign to educate the public and business community on the rapidly changing and increasingly comp lex health care system.