Health-care premiums for employers are rising again — and the culprit seems to be excessive cost-cutting. Those are the findings of a recent study by Hewitt Associates of 350 large employers. According to the Lincolnshire, Ill.-based human resources consulting group, the rate of increase in premiums paid by employers for 2008 is likely to rise by 8.7%. That's compared to a slow but steady drop in the rate of increase from 2005 at 9.2% to 2007 at 5.3%.

The major malefactor: too much shifting of costs onto employees, according to Jim Winkler, national practice leader in health management consulting. Specifically, over the past five years or so, more employers have made a practice of increasing employees' share of deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses.

In fact, they've increased that burden so much that many employees have cut back on getting medical treatment, including their purchase of prescription medications for such chronic conditions as diabetes and cardiac disease. "When employers shift costs, in the short-term you get savings," says Winkler. "But it also translates into employees using less care." The result: Companies are now increasing employee deductibles at a slower rate and premiums have started to rise again, according to Winkler.

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