Premiums for health insurance plans will climb 6.3 percent in 2013, but employee costs will shoot up even higher as companies look to shift more of the rising expenses to their workers, according to a new forecast by human resources consultancy Aon Hewitt.
The average cost to insure an employee is projected to jump to $11,283 in 2013, from $10,616 this year, according to the report by the unit of London-based Aon Corp.
But employees' health care costs will increase even more. Workers' average contribution to their insurance premium will grow 8.2 percent next year, to $2,713, from $2,508 in 2012, according to the study, which is based on health benefit information for 486 large companies nationwide. Employees' out-of-pocket costs are predicted to jump higher still.
Both employers and employees are bracing for another year in which health care costs will substantially outpace inflation, which was just 1.7 percent during the 12 months ended in August, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
With health care costs soaring, employers are increasingly asking their workers to shoulder more of the burden.
Many companies are funneling employees toward "consumer-driven" health plans where workers pay for health care from a specially designated fund, and more employees are using high-deductible plans, said Dale Moyer, principal at Benefits & Compensation Resources LLC in Deerfield.
"The plan is being designed to cause employees to have more out-of-pocket expenses," he said.
Indeed, employees' out-of-pocket health care costs will jump nearly 10.3 percent, to an average of $2,882, in 2013, from $2,614 in 2012, the study released last week said.
The 6.3 percent average increase in Chicago-area premiums is in line with the national average, and comes after local premiums rose 5.7 percent in 2012. In 2011, local health insurance premiums rose 9.2 percent, Aon Hewitt said.
Insurers scaled back increases last year in part because many people used their health insurance less frequently, part of a national trend of low utilization. Amid the weak economy, budget-minded consumers skimped on co-payments and deductible expenses. But that trend could change.
Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Illinois, the state's largest insurer, says it is too early to say whether its premiums for 2013 will be in the 6 percent to 7 percent range, in line with Aon Hewitt's forecast.
"There remains some anticipation that there's pent-up demand, so it would be reasonable to expect to see increased utilization in 2013, and therefore medical cost increases that reflect it next year," Kevin Cassidy, vice president of the insurer's national and key accounts, said in a statement.
Among major metropolitan areas nationwide, Chicago ranks seventh in average health care cost per employee in 2012, according to the Aon Hewitt study, which covers 14.9 million participants. Philadelphia has the highest cost, with nearly $12,900 per employee, while Los Angeles, with $9,534 per employee, has the lowest cost among the 15 metropolitan areas studied.
The federal health care overhaul has added to insurers' costs with provisions that allow parents to add their adult children to their insurance or require coverage without co-pays of some women's preventive health care, such as contraceptives and mammograms, said Nancy Scola Lombaer, a partner at Laurus Strategies, a Chicago-based health care consultancy.
Nonetheless, insurers are moving slowly to pass along those costs to their customers, at least for the moment, she said.
"Everyone is watching and waiting to see what happens with health care reform," she said.