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More U.S. firms using high-deductible health insurance plans

In 2011, 32% of companies with 500 or more employees offered high-deductible health insurance plans, up from 23% in 2010, according to a survey by the benefits consulting firm Mercer.

November 22, 2011|By Duke Helfand, Los Angeles Times

U.S. employers, struggling to contain rising healthcare costs, are offering workers more high-deductible insurance options that help reduce monthly insurance premiums but may shift a greater share of medical expenses to employees.

In 2011, 32% of companies with 500 or more employees offered high-deductible plans. That was up from 23% in 2010, according to a survey of 2,844 private and public employers by the benefits consulting firm Mercer.

In all, 13% of insured employees in the survey were enrolled in such a plan this year, up from just 3% five years ago.

Under high-deductible plans, employees pay for more of their initial medical expenses with money deposited by them and their employers into health savings accounts. Money in the accounts can be rolled over from year to year, allowing workers to build up large sums for future medical expenses.

"One feature of the [high-deductible] plans that employers like is the flexibility in funding employees' spending accounts," said Laura Baker, a principal in Mercer's Los Angeles office. "A growing number of employers are making their account contributions contingent on the employees' willingness to take steps to improve their own health."

Companies say the approach is a benefit to them and their workers because it helps keep a lid on monthly insurance expenses. The Mercer survey showed that the average cost of employee coverage under high-deductible plans was nearly 20% lower than traditional insurance plans — $7,787 compared with $9,385.

The shift to the high-deductible plans may be one reason for the slower growth of health insurance costs reported by employers.

The average per-employee cost of health benefits grew 6.9% last year. Costs have grown 6.1% this year and are expected to rise 5.7% in 2012, the survey found.

duke.helfand@latimes.com

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