Medical plan costs are predicted to grow at double-digit ratesin the next year, according to Aon Consulting's 2010 HealthCare Trend Survey, which interviewed more than 60 health careinsurers, representing more than 100 million insured individuals.Aon Consulting has determined healthcare costs are expected to rise by 10.5 percent for HMOs, 10.6percent for POS plans, 10.7 percent for PPOs and 11 percent for CDHplans - a slightly higher rate than last year's increases of 10.4percent for HMOs, 10.4 percent for POS plans, 10.7 percent for PPOsand 10.5 percent for CDH plans.

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In the next year, Aon Consulting forecasts an 8.4 percentprescription drug cost trend, a decrease from 9.3 percent in thespring of 2009, and a 14 percent specialty pharmacy trend rate isexpected, rather than last year's lower 13.2 percent.

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For retirees over the age of 65, health care rates are projectedto hit 7.5 percent for Medicare Supplement plans and 6.7 percentfor Medicare Advantage plans, Aon Consulting says, which is up from6.6 percent and down from 7.3 percent from the spring of 2009.

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Over the next three years, a 2 percent to 5 percent medicaltrend increase is anticipated because of the health care reformlaw, Aon Consulting reports. As health carriers pass costs fromfurther regulation and eliminate taxes, additional costs willbecome evident, and providers facing Medicare reimbursementreductions may try to shift costs to an employer-based system.

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"As employers start to fully understand the long-term costimpact of health reform, many are looking to redesign their healthplans," says John Zern, U.S. health and benefits practice directorof Aon Consulting. "Strong employee wellness and preventionprograms, along with institutionalized best practices in caredelivery, are key components to a successful redesign."

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To cope with growing costs, employers can offer an inclusivewellness program, Aon Consulting notes. Grants to help launchwellness programs will be available for smaller employers in 2011,and in 2014, employers can reward participating employees up to 30percent of the cost of coverage. Existing wellness regulationsallow up to 20 percent.

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"Investments in well-designed health management and wellnessprograms can create a healthier and more engaged employee," saysDr. Paul Berger, U.S. health and benefits chief medical officer ofAon Consulting. "Long term, employers are likely to see a decreasein chronic diseases and an increase in employee productivity withreduced absence. Comprehensive wellness and health managementprograms also can be an important factor in the recruitment andretention of employees."

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Employers will also likely increase deductibles, co-pays,out-of-pocket maximums and employee contributions as well asimplement consumer-driven health plans, Aon Consulting says.

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