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The 1995 Foster Higgins health care cost survey marks the first time that the benefit consulting firm has formally separated employees' and retirees' health care costs in many categories.

When A. Foster Higgins & Co. Inc. began the survey a decade ago, few employers were able to isolate their retiree health care costs from those of employees.

The most credible numbers then were aggregate costs-total health plan costs, which included active employees and retirees. Foster Higgins then used the information to determine per capita health care costs by dividing total costs for active and retired employees by the number of active employees.

That calculation still is valuable because it provides a "big-picture" view of employers' total group health care costs. But, the method has its drawbacks. "Employers that provided retiree health care coverage saw their costs compare unfavorably with employers that didn't," Foster Higgins says in its most recent survey.

During the last few years-in large part because of reporting requirements imposed by the Financial Accounting Standards Board-employers have more detailed information about the cost of their employees' and retirees' health care plans.

As a result, in the new survey, Foster Higgins separately broke out employees' and retirees' health care costs in most categories. But it also will continue to combine employees' and retirees' costs for the "big-picture" view of health care costs.