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Doctors, hospitals and drugmakers increased their prices faster than theVoluntary benefits controls costs rate of general inflation in 2010, driving U.S. health costs higher even as fewer Americans sought care, a new study found.

Employers picked up the tab for much of that increase in cost, as spending on workers covered on the job grew 3.3 percent per person in 2010, twice the general inflation rate, according to a report from the Health Care Cost Institute.

The researchers analyzed 3 billion claims from UnitedHealth, Aetna, Humana and Kaiser Permanente -- the largest set of private insurance data ever studied in this way.

The research found that fewer employers were covered by employer-provided plans, echoing other recent reports on the issue. It also backed up the trend of shifting more of the cost to employees: While insurer costs climbed 2.6 percent in 2010, employees’ share rose by 7.1 percent, the Health Care Cost Institute study found.

For many employers, an expansion of voluntary benefits program has been the best way to continue to offer employees the benefits they want while controlling costs.

A well-designed voluntary insurance program can help reduce overall health care costs for workers and employers by filling gaps in core medical plan coverage, allowing people to tailor their coverage to meet their personal situations, and making it more affordable for workers to seek preventative care. Here’s a quick rundown of how they can help:

Filling Gaps Left by HDHP Plans

Voluntary benefits can help workers fill gaps in the coverage provided by their core health insurance plan. These sorts of programs can be especially appealing to workers whose employers are offering high deductible health plans -- HDHP or co-payments, as many now are.

Popular voluntary employee health benefits options that can help fill gaps in employers' core plans include:

  • Hospital indemnity Insurance
  • Critical Illness Insurance
  • Short Term Disability Insurance
  • Long Term Disability Insurance
Providing Greater Flexibility

Voluntary benefits also allow workers more flexibility in tailoring their coverage to meet their personal situations. Allowing individual workers to choose which benefits they want at their own cost frees the employer from having to offer all products to all workers at the employer’s cost.

Common voluntary employee health benefits options that can help meet this need for flexibility include:

  • Voluntary Disability Insurance
  • Voluntary Life Insurance
  • Critical Illness or Cancer Insurance
  • Accident Insurance
Promoting Preventative Care and Wellness

Finally, voluntary benefits can help make it more affordable for workers to seek preventative care -- reducing their need to seek costly emergency room care later. One common example: dental coverage. Without dental insurance, people often postpone or neglect routine care, which can eventually lead to serious health issues that require a warrant a visit to the emergency room or even major surgery. In the long run, this drives up health care costs. The routine eye exams supported by vision coverage have a similar holistic effect.

Winston Benefits is a HR solutions company that helps businesses automate and streamline their employee benefit programs. Custom designed and developed client specific solutions help enrich their total compensation and rewards programs while optimizing processes such as benefit communications, enrollment and administration.

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