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Employers expect 5.4% rise in 2012 health plan costs: Mercer survey

Employers expect 5.4% rise in 2012 health plan costs: Mercer survey

Employers project that their group health care plan costs will increase an average of 5.4% in 2012, a somewhat smaller increase compared with recent years, according to a Mercer L.L.C. survey released Wednesday.

That compares with Mercer surveys that showed a 6.9% average cost increase in 2010, 5.5% in 2009 and 6.3% in 2008.

Mercer noted that utilization of health care services this year has slowed. The tough economy, along with higher deductibles and other forms of increased employee cost-sharing, may be affecting utilization, Mercer said.

“Because employees have less disposable income and are working longer hours, they are less likely to seek nonurgent care,” Mercer said in a statement.

In addition, utilization may be slowing due to the impact of employer programs aimed at earlier detection of health problems, Mercer said.

“Earlier risk identification and health education, along with improvements in drug therapies and medical technology, are keeping people with health risks and chronic conditions away from the emergency room,” Susan Connolly, a partner in Mercer's Boston office, said in the statement.

The findings are based on responses from nearly 1,600 employers. Ultimately, about 2,800 employers are expected to respond, with the results—including the actual average health care plan cost increase for 2011—to be released this year.

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