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Modest group health care increases predicted for 2015

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Employers are expecting only modest increases in their group health care plan costs and are planning to take several steps to keep down future increases, according to a new survey released Thursday.

Employers surveyed by Towers Watson & Co. said that after plan changes, they expect costs to increase by an average of 4% in 2015. In 2014, costs rose an average of 3.9%, according to an earlier Mercer L.L.C. survey.

Still, while current cost increases are relatively modest compared with a few years ago when 6% annual increases were the norm, employers want to do better.

“The new focus is on reducing cost trends to the overall” consumer price index, Randall Abbott, a Towers Watson senior consulting leader in Boston, said in a statement. “This means driving cost growth to roughly 2% or less.”

For example, nearly half of surveyed employers said they plan to put more emphasis during the next two years on educating employees on how to select providers based on cost and quality information.

In addition, while 17% of employers now only offer high-deductible plans linked to health savings accounts, that percentage could nearly triple by 2018, according to the survey.

More than half — 53% — of the respondents say they plan to significantly reduce employer subsidies for coverage of spousal and other dependents.

The survey, taken in January, is based on the responses of 444 midsize to large employers.