The average cost of employee health benefits rose 6.1 percent in 2011, down from a 6.9 percent growth rate in 2010, according to a new report from the health care consulting firm Mercer. The average cost per employee for health benefits was $10,146 in 2011, the report found. For 2012, Mercer is projecting a 5.7 percent bump in the cost of health benefits.

 

Overall in 2011, Mercer reported a 2 percent increase in health plan enrollment, which Mercer attributed to the provision of the Affordable Care Act that mandates coverage for employees' children up to age 26.

The report also found:

  • 47 percent of employers surveyed said they plan to shift costs to employees in 2012 by raising deductibles or employee premiums, down from 50 percent of employers last year.
  • 32 percent of all large employers — defined as workplaces with over 500 employees — offer high-deductible, consumer-directed health plans. The cost of coverage for those plans is roughly 20 percent lower than coverage in a PPO, the report found.
  • A third of large employers with health management, or wellness, programs, now provide incentives or penalties to employees, up from 27 percent in 2010. In addition, incentives for wellness programs have changed; five years ago, the most common incentive for completing a health assessment was a token gift or cash. Today, the most common incentive is a lower premium contribution.
  • Only 9 percent of large employers say they plan to terminate their health plans when state-run insurance exchanges become operational in 2014. However, 19 percent of employers with between 10-499 workers plan to terminate their plans.
  • 46 percent of employers now offer coverage to same sex domestic partners, up from 39 percent in 2010.