Employer Health Costs Rise 4.1% -- Slowest Growth In 15 Years

Employer health costs rose just 4.1 percent nationally in 2012 -- the slowest rate of growth in 15 years -- as employers offer more high-deductible plans and increase employee cost-sharing, a new report from consulting firm Mercer has found.

Los Angeles Times: More Employers Embrace High-Deductible Health Plans To Pare Costs
With open enrollment for benefits in full swing, U.S. workers are seeing more high-deductible health plans from cost-conscious employers. A new report finds that 36 percent of large employers offered consumer-directed, high-deductible health plans in 2012, up from 14 percent five years ago. Enrollment in those plans has risen to 16 percent of all covered employees, compared with 5 percent in 2007, according to benefits consultant Mercer (Terhune, 11/14).

Kaiser Health News:  Employer Health Costs Rise 4 Percent, Lowest Boost Since 1997
Furnishing new evidence of slower growth in health costs, consulting firm Mercer said Wednesday that employers spent 4.1 percent more on health benefits this year than in 2011. It was the smallest increase in 15 years (Hancock, 11/14).

Richmond Times-Dispatch: Employee Health Costs In Virginia Up 6.9 Percent, Survey Finds
Employee health benefit costs in Virginia rose 6.9 percent in 2012, a higher percentage increase than from last year. But Virginia employers expect employee health plan costs to increase only 5.8 percent in 2013. The figure would be higher but employers are managing costs by taking steps such as raising deductibles, co-pays and co-insurance. The findings are in the Mercer 2012 National Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Plans, which looks at employee health benefit cost trends and forecasts. Nationally, employee health benefit costs are still going up, but the rate of increase in the U.S. slowed in 2012. Companies on average paid 4.1 percent more per employee for health benefits than in 2011 (Smith, 11/14).

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Cost Of Providing Health Benefits Rises 4.1%, Lowest In 15 Years
The cost to employers of providing health benefits increased at the lowest rate in 15 years, rising 4.5 percent in the Milwaukee area and 4.1 percent nationally this year, according to an annual survey by Mercer, a benefits consulting company. Employers in the Milwaukee area will spend an average of $11,867 per worker on health benefits this year. The estimated increases -- which include the employee's share of the premium -- were after changes in health plan designs, such as raising deductibles and co-pays (Boulton, 11/14).

The Oregonian: Many Local Employers Asking Workers To Pay More For Health Benefits In 2013, Survey Finds
Local employers say they'll make changes to health benefits to curb cost increases by nearly half, often by shifting costs to employees, according to a new survey. A survey of 64 employers in Oregon and Southwest Washington by human resources consultant Mercer revealed that employers thought their insurance costs would increase 3.6 percent in 2013. However, making no changes to their plan design or vendor, costs would increase 6.8 percent, they estimated. In 2012, health benefit costs increased 5.6 percent, employers said. About 41 percent said they will ask employees to shoulder more of their plan's costs in 2013 by raising deductibles, copays or out-of-pocket maximums or by increasing the workers' share of premium contributions (Hunsberger, 11/14).

Meanwhile, The Associated Press reports on new caps for employee health accounts -

The Associated Press: Limit Debuts In 2013 For Employee Health Accounts
Flexible spending accounts that set aside pre-tax wages for health care costs will have a cap in 2013 that workers need to keep in mind as they plan for next year. Benefits-related open enrollment periods, the lone chance employees generally have each year to set up these accounts, are winding down for many companies (11/14).

In other news about insurance coverage and access to health care -

The Wall Street Journal: After Divorce, Many Women Lose Health Insurance
Shedding light on the issues of divorce and health care, a new University of Michigan study estimates that 65,000 American women become uninsured each year as a result of marital dissolution. Indeed, among married women who had health insurance and then divorced, 17 percent were uninsured six months later. There was also a big shift among divorced women from private insurance to public insurance, such as Medicaid. After divorce an estimated 115,000 women each year lose private coverage, the study reported, but many are bailed out by government programs (Akst, 11/14).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Census: Fuller Poverty Picture Finds 49.7M Are Poor, Factoring In Medical And Work Expenses
The ranks of America’s poor edged up last year to a high of 49.7 million, based on a new census measure that takes into account medical costs and work-related expenses (11/14).

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