The average cost of health care premiums for midsize and large companies increased 4.4 percent in 2014 compared to the previous year, a new study by the health and benefits consultant Aon Hewitt has found.
In 2015, Aon Hewitt projects, average health care premium increases will be 5.5 percent after plan design changes and vendor negotiations.
The increases are relatively tame compared with the double-digit rate hikes seen in some cases earlier in the decade.
The average health care cost per employee in 2014 was $10,717, compared to $10,266 in 2013, the 2014 Aon Hewitt Health Care Study found.
The portion of the health care premiums that employees were asked to contribute was $2,487 in 2014, compared to $2,355 in 2013, the study said.
Average employee out-of-pocket costs — copayments, coinsurance and deductibles — totaled $2,295 in 2014, an increase of $290 from the previous year.
The dollar averages were applied to HMO, POS and PPO plans.
Tim Nimmer, chief health care actuary at Aon Hewitt said that as the economy strengthens, consumers are more willing to “re-engage in using the health care system” after several years of pullback because of the recession.
Rising costs are one reason that many employees aren’t thrilled with the quality of their employer-sponsored benefits, but at the same time employees say benefits are important to them. Companies continue to offer benefits as a retention tool.
Along with the higher costs expected in 2015, companies expect to mitigate increases by offering high-deductible health plans and “gating” health benefits, a strategy which requires employees to complete a health questionnaire or submit to biometric screening if they want access to richer benefit options, Aon Hewitt said.
To further control costs, companies are tightening the eligibility of dependents and cutting back on subsidies. For example, the survey found that 22 percent of companies had reduced subsidies for covered dependents and that 18 percent of companies had added a surcharge for adult dependents with access to other health coverage.
More employers are adopting pay-for-performance strategies in which companies steer employees to high-quality hospitals or doctors for specific procedures, use health care systems with an integrated delivery model, or set a pricing cap on benefits for medical services, the survey found.
Aon Hewitt said the data is derived from its Health Value Initiative database, which captures health care cost and benefit data for 561 large U.S. employers representing 13 million participants, more than 1,260 plans and $64.8 billion in 2014 health care spending.
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