Health costs are among the many reasons family finances are under strain. For the first time, the total bill for the typical family of four with an employer-sponsored health-care plan (a preferred provider plan with co-pays and deductibles) breached $20,000 in 2012.

Specifically, the average cost for the family of four in 2012 is $20,728, a hike of $1,335 or 6.9 percent from 2011, according to the Milliman Medical Index.

The rate of increase is down over the past 2 years, but the dollar amount keeps climbing higher. (The figures are only for people who receive health care via their employers. The health insurance market for people who have to get it on their own is much worse.) 

Employers still shoulder the main cost burden with health care. But the employees' share of the bill -- out of pocket costs plus payroll deductions -- is on the increase at $8,584 for 2012.  

There is a great deal of uncertainty surrounding health care. First of all, none of these figures includes the impact of the Obama Administration's signature health-care legislation, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Secondly, while the Supreme Court has heard oral arguments on a major legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act, the Court hasn't yet issued a decision.  

Nevertheless, numbers such as these emphasize that how we pay for health care will continue to be a major public policy issue. Reform is critical. 

The cost burden weighs heavily on ordinary family finances, and the employer price tag for offering the benefit keeps moving higher. This is before even considering the terrible health-care market for those without access to an employer-provided plan and the realization that at the core of the federal government's long-term budget deficit is spiraling health care costs. 

The bottom line: The status quo is simply unacceptable.

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Follow Chris Farrell at @cfarrellecon