NU Online News Service, March 18, 2004, 3:43 p.m. EST – Many big employers are trying to hold down health coverage costs this year by increasing workers’ out-of-pocket costs.[@@]

Researchers at the National Business Group on Health, Washington, and Watson Wyatt & Company Holdings, Washington, are basing that conclusion on a survey of 449 large employers that cover more than 8 million employees.

Half of the employers are reporting health care cost increases of 12% or more, compared with a median increase of 13% in 2002.

The researchers found that most employers have given up on trying to hold down costs by switching insurers or health plan administrators. Only 10% of the employers surveyed switched medical vendors this year, down from 30%.

One-quarter of the employers surveyed said they significantly increased either employees’ share of the premiums or the bills employees pay when they actually seek care.

There was also an increase in the number of employers that adopted high-deductible plans without bothering to fund health reimbursement arrangements or other personal care accounts, the researchers say.

The researchers note that the total median cost increase was only 7% at carriers that increased employees’ “point of purchase” costs but 17% at employers that have been doing less to bring workers face to face with the actual cost of health care.