up chartXerox-owned consulting firm Buck Consultants has recently projected that health care cost increases for all types of medical plans will slow by between 0.2 percent and 0.6 percent for at least the first six months of 2013. This is the first time since 2001 that the Buck’s survey has indicated increases of less than 10 percent for any plan type. In its newest National Health Care Trend Survey, Buck Consultants has projected health care cost increases of 9.7 percent for PPOs, 9.5 percent for POSs, 9.3 percent for HMOs, and 9.6 percent for HDHPs.

“Despite the lower trend, though, health care costs continue to outpace general inflation – creating difficult business decisions for organizations,” said Daniel Levin, FSA and survey director. “The stubbornly high costs can be attributed to several trends, ranging from a greater use of diagnostic tests and treatments to mandated coverage of certain benefits. Employers need to decide how much of these increases to pass on to workers, or whether to drop coverage and pay the penalties imposed by the Affordable Care Act.”

The 123 health insurers participating in the survey reported an average 10.1 percent increase for prescription drugs, about 2.5 times the 4.1 percent rate reported by pharmacy benefit managers. For supplemental Medicare plans, insurers reported a trend increase of 5.4 percent not including prescription drug coverage, down 0.4 percent from the previous annual survey. The decrease is due to the increased federal controls on Medicare fees and slowed growth of Medicare deductibles and copays.

“Another health care trend we’ll be watching is the impact of private health insurance exchanges,” said Levin. “It remains to be seen how the development of private exchanges will affect the use of public exchange models, but it could likely impact the projected cost trends we measure in this survey.”

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