NU Online News Service, Aug. 18, 2004, 4:20 p.m. EDT

U.S. commercial health coverage rates rose an average of 10.5% this year after benefit reductions.[@@]

The Hay Group Inc., Philadelphia, has published that estimate in a report on a survey of about 1,000 U.S. employers.

Hay is predicting rate increases will continue to average about 10% in 2005. Increases for 2004 have averaged about 15% for health maintenance organization plans and 9% for preferred provider organization plans.

Health benefits costs now account for 8.8% of payroll costs, up from 7.8% in 2002, Hay says.