State health plan premiums are low in South Carolina, new report shows

South Carolina state flag

South Carolina state employee health insurance plans are among the least expensive in the country, a new report by the State Health Care Spending Project shows.

Health insurance premiums for Palmetto State employees cost an average $619 per month - higher only than monthly premiums in Mississippi and South Dakota.

By comparison, premiums for New Hampshire employees cost an average $1,512 - the highest in the country. The national average was $963 per employee, per month in 2013.

The report did not include health plan information for employees covered by private businesses. Employees who work for the South Carolina government or local agencies, such as teachers, health inspectors and Highway Patrol officers, are eligible for state health plan benefits. A separate 2013 analysis by the S.C. Public Employee Benefit Authority, which manages the state health plan, also shows premiums for state employees are lower here than in most other regions.

In 2013, states spent a combined $30.8 billion to insure 2.7 million employee households, the new national report shows - a 2 percent spending increase since 2011.

South Carolina alone spent $408 million on state health care plans in 2013, up about 6 percent since 2011.

"Health insurance costs have become a significant portion of states' overall health care spending, second only to Medicaid," the State Health Care Spending Project report explained.

Marie Schiff, the project's director, said researchers found "sharp differences across the states."

For example, state employees were responsible for an average 13 percent of their premium for the plans that covered the employee only and 20 percent of the premium if the plan covered the employee and his or her dependents.

But in South Carolina, the employee's responsibility was significantly higher. Here, state employees pay an average 24 percent of their monthly premium to cover only themselves and an average 28 percent of the premium for plans that cover both the employee and dependents.

The State Health Care Spending Project, a joint venture by The Pew Charitable Trusts and the MacArthur Foundation, intends to identify expenditures that are driving costs in specific health care areas, Schiff said.

It previously published reports on state Medicaid spending and state prison health care spending.

The new report is available online.

Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.