updated 10/25/2006 12:46:57 AM ET 2006-10-25T04:46:57

A growing number of Americans are upset with rising health care costs and say that covering medical bills is reducing their ability to save.

The 2006 health confidence survey released Wednesday by the nonprofit Employee Benefit Research Institute in Washington, D.C., found that fewer than two in 10 Americans are satisfied with the cost of health insurance and with costs not covered by insurance. More than half are “not too satisfied” or “not at all satisfied.”

As a result, six in 10 rate the nation’s health care system as “fair” or “poor.”

“There’s no change in satisfaction with the quality of care,” said Paul Fronstin, direct of health research at EBRI and co-author of the study. “It is the cost that is driving dissatisfaction with the whole system.”

Fronstin noted that recent studies have found the increase in health care costs slowing. The Kaiser Family Foundation reported last month that health insurance premiums rose this year by the smallest amount since 1999.

“But the 7.7 percent increase is still double the rate of increase of workers’ earnings and double the rate of inflation,” Fronstin said. “And people are paying more.”

The Kaiser study estimated that the health insurance bill for the average family was nearly $11,500 a year; the cost for individuals was about $4,200 a year.

Respondents to the ninth annual EBRI survey also said that paying more for health insurance — and more for health costs not covered by insurance — meant they had less to save.

More than 36 percent said they had to reduce contributions to their retirement savings plans, up from 26 percent a year ago. At the same time, some 53 percent said they had to cut contributions to other savings accounts, up from 45 percent, and 28 percent said they had difficulty covering basic expenses, up from 24 percent.

“Due to rising costs, Americans are falling behind in savings and struggling to handle even basic expenses, which over time has had a significant impact on their confidence in the health care system,” said Jerry Ripperger, director of consumer health for the Principal Financial Group, which was an underwriter of the study.

Americans also have changed their behavior — seeking out generic drugs, trying to take better care of themselves and talking to their doctors more carefully about treatment options, the study found.

And probably because they’re aware of the high cost of health care, most workers value their company-sponsored health plans, the survey found. Three-quarters of those with work-based health benefits said they would opt for $6,700 in health coverage before they’d take an additional $6,700 in taxable income.

The phone survey of 1,000 adults was conducted by EBRI and Mathew Greenwald & Associates Inc., a Washington, D.C.-based market research firm. The margin of error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.

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