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Employers Continued to Contain Health Benefits Costs

Employers Continued to Contain Health Benefits Costs

Fort Worth Star-Telegram via Yellowbrix

November 19, 2009

Nov. 19—Employers’ costs of healthcare benefits grew 5.5 percent this year, the lowest increase in a decade, as workplaces added health management programs and moved workers into high-deductible plans, a noted benefits consulting firm said Wednesday.

Employers expect largely the same in 2010. If they made no changes, employers estimate that their 2010 healthcare costs would rise about 9 percent. But they expect more on the order of a 6 percent increase, after redesigning plans or changing vendors, the Mercer firm said.

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For Dallas-Fort Worth, survey respondents said they held 2009’s cost increases to 5.4 percent on average. For 2010, they expect a 5.9 percent increase.

The national average cost of health benefits paid by employers was $8,945 per employee. In D-FW it was $8,561. The Mercer study included public and private employers with at least 10 workers, and 2,914 employers responded.

“Small and large employers used different strategies to keep cost growth down in 2009,” said Mark Chronister, a senior health and benefits consultant for Mercer in Dallas.

Small employers tended to raise deductibles and move employees into less expensive consumer-directed health plans, he said. Such plans typically pair higher deductibles with tax-advantaged accounts that participants use to pay for healthcare. The idea is to give participants an incentive to consume healthcare judiciously.

Large employers, on the other hand, made relatively few cost shifts, the study indicated. “But there was a clear increase in their use of programs and policies designed to improve work-force health,” Chronister said.

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