A hefty percentage of major U.S. companies failed to accurately predict the cost of health insurance in 2002, and most see the spiral of health-care inflation becoming more dire in coming years, according to a poll released Thursday.
Of the 434 employers polled, 45% said they miscalculated the escalating costs of employee health care last year despite heightened publicity about soaring prices, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation survey.
"It is so hard to be able to predict as costs spiral," said Doris Powers, a spokeswoman for health benefits at General Motors Corp., the biggest private U.S. buyer of health care, with 1.2 million employees and their dependents and retirees to cover.
Companies point to greater use of expensive technologies and rising prices of drugs and hospital care.
GM, for example, spent $4.5 billion on health care last year -- $1.4 billion of that on prescription drugs.
"With companies' costs increasing even higher than anticipated, and little confidence they can do much to stem the rising tide, most employers are relying on short-term" fixes, said Helen Darling, president of the Washington Business Group on Health, a nonprofit organization that focuses on heath issues faced by 165 companies.