Survey: Workers To Face Smallest Hike in Health Care Costs Since 1997
U.S. workers will pay 5.4% more for their health care in 2012, down from a 6.4% increase in 2011 and the smallest increase in health care costs since 1997, according to a survey from Mercer, the AP/Washington Post reports (AP/Washington Post, 9/21).
Mercer surveyed nearly 1,600 employers from across the U.S. for the analysis (Helfand, Los Angeles Times, 9/22).
The report found that many employers expect to offset increases in insurance costs by raising deductibles or copayments or by switching insurers. About one-third of employers surveyed said they plan to increase the amount their employees pay for insurance next year (AP/Washington Post, 9/21).
Without cutting any benefits or costs, employers estimated that their average health benefit costs would increase by about 7% in 2012, down from 9% each of the previous five years (Los Angeles Times, 9/22).
The analysis found that the slowed increase could be attributed to consumers scaling back their health care use (AP/Washington Post, 9/21). Mercer researchers said many employees are skipping physician visits and cutting back on other services because of financial hardships.
The survey also noted that corporate health programs might be helping to lower employees' health care costs (Los Angeles Times, 9/22).
Companies Offering Employees Health Care Pricing Services
In related news, many employers and insurers have begun offering their workers and customers incentives to shop around for the best health care prices, Kaiser Health News reports.
The efforts -- which some are calling "reference pricing" -- are encouraging health care consumers to be more cognizant of costs as a way of reducing the cost of care.
The programs are incentivizing patients to shop for care by using financial perks to promote certain physicians, hospitals or medications that are considered the most cost efficient under the employer-sponsored plan. Some employers are requiring workers who opt for the non-recommended services or providers to pay the difference themselves.
According to KHN, some patient advocates are concerned that the trend might encourage consumers to choose health care providers and services based on price instead of quality (Appleby, Kaiser Health News, 9/21).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.