The average per-employee cost of health benefits rose 5.5 percent in 2009, the lowest annual increase in a decade, according to new findings from Mercer. Similar cost growth is expected for 2010.

The average per-employee cost of health benefits reached $8,945, after four years of increases of more than 6 percent.

According to the National Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Plans, employers predicted that medical plan cost would rise by about 9 percent in 2010 if they renewed their current plans without making any changes. However, they hope to achieve about a 6 percent increase after making changes to plan design or changing plan vendors.

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