The new healthcare law is having much less impact on health care premiums than on benefits. Towers Watson estimates it's adding an average of 1 to 2 percent to what premiums otherwise would be next year. The administration claims the impact is "negligible."
But that has not kept some companies from instituting double-digit premium increases. Andrea Caulfield of Alexandria, Va., who says she's had great health benefits for the past five years, was so stunned when she opened this year's notice that she says she thought it was a misprint. She now pays $313 a month for herself, her husband Rick and their 13-year-old son Patrick. Next year, it would be $825 a month. That includes a new premium "surcharge" because her husband could get coverage through his own employer.
She says that's not remotely affordable. "Neither one of us is getting pay increases or even cost of living increases, so there's no way we could budget for this additional cost," Caulfield said.
Her employer cited multiple factors that led to the change – the rising cost of healthcare and "significant" costs under the healthcare law, including a temporary $63 fee that must be paid for each covered employee, spouse or child starting in 2014. The fee is intended to fund a program to help spread risk for insurers participating in the exchanges.
Other companies also are charging more for spouses. Xerox has had a surcharge for spouses for the past three years. It's rising to $1,500 in 2014. Earlier this fall, UPS told employees it will exclude spouses who have access to coverage elsewhere altogether in 2014.
Caulfield credits the Affordable Care Act for added benefits like guaranteed coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, but she wishes she didn't have to pay for it.
"I know we all have to work together to help each other, but sometimes they have these big ideas but they really don't think about the little person, working really hard and each spouse working one job and we still can't quite make it."
The family will now purchase coverage through Rick's employer. It will cost $70 more per month than her current plan. It is not their preference, but Andrea says they don't have a choice.
"I'm part of that percentage that was told, you're gonna be able to keep your coverage, but that's really not what happened."
Robert Laszewski says the bar for employer-based healthcare plans has moved.
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"In the past, employers compared their benefits to each other," said Laszewski. "And they had very rich benefits. Now we see a real phenomenon where employers are comparing their benefits to Obamacare and that's the new reference point. So it's really about, 'I have better benefits than Obamacare.' And of course many of the Obamacare deductibles are 2000 dollars."
Jason Furman says the real story is how much the growth in health care costs and cost sharing have slowed in the last few years.
"This past year, adjusted for inflation, premiums rose 2.3 percent. That's one-third the rate that they were growing a decade ago," Furman said.
"You just can't blame everything in the health system on this law. It had a lot of problems before it, and it's actually helping to make them better."
—By Talesha Reynolds and Lisa Myers of NBC News