After increases of around 6 percent in prior years, preliminary survey findings released by the health and benefits unit of Mercer Human Resource Consulting say that the health benefit costs are expected to grow 6.7 percent in 2008.
Costs would grow by 9 percent on average next year if the employers made no changes, but most respondents expect to see a lower increase by changing plans, adding lower-cost options or altering the design of their benefits, Mercer said.
"It's only a slight up tick, but of course we'd rather see cost growth trending down," said Blaine Bos, a senior Mercer consultant.
The results represent responses from 1,557 employer health plan sponsors. Mercer said around 3,000 employers will ultimately participate in the survey and complete results will be released by the end of the year.
Fifty-six percent of the employers surveyed said that they will require employees to pay a bigger share of health plan costs in 2008.
Employers may seek to implement higher premium contributions, deductibles or co-payments, among other actions, Mercer said.