American companies will likely pay an average of 5.4 percent more for health benefits in 2012, according to national survey by benefits consulting firm Mercer. This would mark the lowest increase since 1997. However, employees can expect the cost of their health benefits to continue increasing at a faster pace than their earnings.
The annual survey included responses from almost 1,600 employers. The findings of the analysis reflect employer efforts to cut costs by such methods as offering employees lower-cost health plans having increased paycheck contributions and higher deductibles.
Without any cost-cutting measures, employer health benefit costs are expected to increase by 7.1 percent, on average, which is a decline of close to 2 percent when compared to average annual increases of around 9 percent annually over the last five years.
But Mercer partner Susan Connolly pointed out, “While 2012’s slower cost growth is welcome news, it’s still higher than the [consumer price index], which means employers won't be letting up their efforts to control costs anytime soon.”
The lower increase in health cost is due, at least in part, to fewer doctor visits from workers amidst the struggling U.S. economy, as well as the positive impact of employee health improvement programs put into place by corporations.
Connolly noted, “Earlier risk identification and health education are keeping people with health risks and chronic conditions away from the emergency room.” She also added, “Consumers are more aware that overuse and misuse of healthcare services will directly impact their wallets as well as their employer’s budget.”
However, by raising deductibles, doctor visit co-payments, and increasing employee contributions to insurance premiums, workers may feel the financial squeeze, even though growth for rates of health benefit costs is slowing.
According to Mercer, the average in-network PPO deductible for an individual is now $1,000 for small employers and $500 among large employers.
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