More than half of companies with fewer than 200 employees offered insurance with an annual deductible of $1,000 or greater this year for single coverage, according to the Kaiser survey. That's up from 16 percent in 2006.
Jewelry design business Thomas Michaels Designers Inc. offers employee health insurance with a $5,000 deductible. The plan covers only four people, but co-owner Nora Michaels said the annual premium totals $22,000 and eats up about 20 percent of the Camden, Maine, company's budget.
Michaels said she plans to look into whether her employees can get a better deal through the health care overhaul and its upcoming coverage expansions. The federal overhaul will expand coverage next year to millions of uninsured people in part by providing income-based tax credits to help customers buy insurance through exchanges if they can't get affordable coverage through an employer.
Michaels said her coverage costs, which have grown for several years, prevent her from raising pay.
"There's a lot of things we don't do because we have to pay that kind of premium," she said. "It kind of stifles business."
Kaiser's study doesn't make forecasts about 2014, but lead author Gary Claxton said premium increases will likely be moderate next year, too. Altman, Kaiser's CEO, said the cost increases aren't big enough to force employers to make big changes in the coverage they offer.
"There really is no reason for employers to be radically whacking away at health coverage or health benefits in a slow health care cost environment like this," he said.
But expect high-deductible plans to grow. A total of 38 percent of all workers with single coverage have a deductible of at least $1,000 this year. That compares with 10 percent in 2006.
These deductibles can help employers avoid an overhaul-mandated tax on expensive plans that starts in 2018, said Paul Fronstin, an economist with the nonprofit Employee Benefit Research Institute who wasn't involved in the Kaiser study.