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Health Benefit Costs Down; Calm Before the Storm? [AUDIO]


The average cost per employee for health benefits rose just two percent nationally and seven percent in New Jersey this year, according to Mercer’s 2013 National Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Plans, but next year is likely to be a different story.

Health Care
Spencer Platt, Getty Images

In fact, many employers expect costs to go up about five percent.

“Nationally, employers we surveyed told us that their increase in health care costs for 2013 was the lowest it’s been in more than a decade,” said Rich Fuerstenberg, consultant with Mercer Health and Benefits.

“Smaller employers managed their costs by increasing their cost sharing such as deductibles. Large employers are focused on growing consumer-driven health plans and increasing enrollment in those plans, as well as health and wellness strategies.”

In New Jersey, the cost increase was a bit higher than the national average.

“One of the reasons we think that’s happened is the trend of large deductibles hasn’t quite made its way throughout the state,” said Fuerstenberg. “Nationally, the average deductible is about $1,500 where in New Jersey, it’s about $350.”

As the open enrollment season gets underway, employees should be aware of a few things.

“We think we’re going to see more high deductible plans and for some employees, it may be their only choice,” said Fuerstenberg. “It may be a choice that’s very attractive as well, because they often come with lower monthly payroll contributions.

“We’re also seeing more employers put a strong emphasis on wellness, and that will not be a token notion. Some employers are putting incentives and penalties for things like smoking and obesity.”

According to the survey, employers across the country expect to see health benefit costs go up at least five percent per employee in 2014. The effects of the Affordable Care Act may also mean there are more workers to cover.

“The cost increase does include fees associated with Obamacare,” said Fuerstenberg. “What they don’t know is, because of the individual mandate, whether employees who have elected not to cover their dependents or cover themselves may come back and enroll in employer plans.”

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