Employers Hold the Line on Health Benefit Cost Increases

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Published in Society for Human Resource Management November 23, 2009 by Stephen Miller 

Many U.S. employers feared that health benefit cost growth would spike in 2009 as employees, worried about keeping their jobs and health coverage, consumed more health services than usual. In fact 2009 saw the lowest annual increase in a decade, as the average per-employee cost of health benefits rose 5.5 percent to reach $8,945 after four years of increases of just over 6 percent.
However, benefit cost growth still outpaced inflation in 2009 by a widening margin, according to an analysis by Mercer, an HR consultancy.
Mercer’s research reveals that:
• U.S. employers held cost growth to 5.5 percent in 2009, the lowest increase in a decade.
• Growth in the use of wellness or health management programs accelerated as large employers looked to hold down cost without cost-shifting.
• Small employers added consumer-directed health plans in 2009, helping to push up enrollment in these high-deductible plans to 9 percent of all covered employees.

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