NU Online News Service, July 16, 11:55 a.m. – The Center for Studying Health System Change, Washington, says panelists agreed at a recent forum it sponsored that employers will be focusing more on cutting costs and shifting costs to workers.

In the mid-1990s, the rise of managed care cut costs so dramatically that plan sponsors were able to focus on adding benefits and increasing the flexibility of cost control programs.

Recently, increases in prescription drug costs have pushed plan costs through the roof. The increases in drug costs appear to be tapering off, but now hospitals, doctors and outpatient facilities are all negotiating big increases in rates, according to Norman Fidel, a mutual fund company executive who spoke at the health system forum.

Some experts want plans to cut costs by expanding quality programs that encourage use of the best, most cost-effective care. But Joy Grossman, associate director at the health system center, says center research suggests few people involved with existing quality programs know whether the programs are saving money, or how much the programs might be saving.

Some speakers wondered whether cost increases would lead to greater federal government involvement, but other speakers said policy makers are too busy with Medicare, Medicaid and managed care consumer protection legislation to get involved with the commercial group health coverage.

The health system center has posted a sound recording of the forum on the Web, at www.kaisernetwork.org/healthcast/hsc/wallstreet/jul01