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City vs. City: When It Comes to Health Insurance Costs, Geography Matters

ROCKVILLE, Md., Dec. 21 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- A new federal database for the first time allows companies, consumers, health care analysts and others to compare health insurance costs among the nation's largest cities and other geographical areas. This new metropolitan area data table developed by HHS' Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality provides comparable statistics on average annual costs for companies and workers contributing to private- sector health insurance. This newest addition to AHRQ's extensive data on employer-based health insurance can be accessed at http://www.meps.ahrq.gov/mepsweb/survey_comp/Insurance.jsp.

The estimates, which are from AHRQ's Medical Expenditure Panel Survey for 2004 -- the most current data -- show large geographical variations in how much Americans pay for family coverage and individual coverage as well as how much employers contribute to workers' health insurance premiums.

"We already know that the quality of health care can vary significantly according to geography,'' said AHRQ Director Carolyn M. Clancy, M.D. "These new data highlight local cost variations and may help employers make annual benefit plan decisions."

Some highlights from the new data for the 20 largest metro areas:

  • For family health insurance plans, Seattle workers contributed the most (an average $3,299 per year). New York City-area workers contributed the least for family coverage ($1,851).
  • Average premiums for family coverage were highest in New York ($11,244) and lowest ($8,521) in the Riverside, California metro area, which includes San Bernardino and Ontario.
  • For individual coverage, Boston workers paid the most ($867). Workers in Riverside paid the least ($449).
  • Premiums for single coverage were highest in San Francisco ($4,185) and lowest in Riverside, ($3,012).

The data include statistical averages from the following cities and surrounding areas: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Dallas-Fort Worth, Miami, Houston, Washington, DC, Atlanta, Detroit, Boston, San Francisco, Riverside, Phoenix, Seattle, Minneapolis, San Diego, St. Louis, Baltimore and Tampa.

The database also provides comparisons within states. For example, in the northern and central counties of New Jersey and part of the New Jersey shore, workers contributed an average of $1,676 for family coverage. But in areas of New Jersey further from New York City, such as Atlantic City and Camden, workers contributed an average $3,079 - 84 percent more.

The employer-based insurance data from AHRQ's Medical Expenditure Panel Survey Insurance Component are updated annually.

Providing information on health care costs, including insurance, is an important component of the HHS Value-Driven Health Care initiative. Using this new AHRQ database, consumers, health care analysts and others will be able to compare and evaluate health insurance costs between the nation's largest cities and other geographical areas and make informed decisions about coverage. For more information on the Value-Driven Health Care initiative, go to: http://www.hhs.gov/transparency.

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