In theory, PPACA could reduce cost shifting. In 2015, probably not. (AP photo/New York City Opera, Carol Rosegg)

Health analysts at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) are expecting the medical costs facing large U.S. group health plans to increase a little faster next year than they increased this year. The analysts are predicting that “medical cost trend” — the change in the underlying cost of care — will be 6.8 percent in 2015.

A year ago, the analysts were predicting the increase for 2015 would be 6.5 percent. That was down from a medical cost trend forecast of 7.5 percent for 2013.

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The lingering effects of the Great Recession and a shift to health plans that incorporate personal health accounts have helped hold down utilization of care, but improvement in the job market could lead to a little more increase in use of care next year, the analysts say.

The analysts do not see the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) having much of an effect on underlying health care costs for the kinds of large employers that offer health benefits.

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If PPACA succeeded at reducing pressure on doctors and hospitals to “cost shift,” or charge insured patients more to make up for losses on treating uninsured patients, that could help hold down the cost trend at large group plans.

PPACA also could lead to increases in health care prices, by increasing the demand for care and giving providers more ability to raise prices. At this point, however, the PwC analysts say they think PPACA will increase total use of care and total national health expenditures without having much effect on prices for patients with employer coverage.

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