NU Online News Service, Dec. 2, 11:09 a.m. EST

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Group medical benefits renewal rates continued to increase inthe U.S. market between June and October, but brokers reported thatclients are not planning to cut coverage altogether, according to asurvey of insurance brokers.

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The Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers (CIAB) releasedits November "Employee Benefits Market Survey" that asked benefitbrokers what the average rate of increase in premiums on renewalwas for group medical and group life compared to the last survey inMay.

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The vast majority of benefits consultant respondents indicatedslight increases from the spring. Eighty-nine percent said pricesincreased for small accounts--those with 50 or feweremployees--with more than half the increases falling in the 11-20percent range.

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For medium accounts--those with 51 to 500 employees--95 percentsaid those accounts experienced increases, with 60 percent seeingincreases in the range of 11-20 percent.

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Group health premium hikes also were reported among largeaccounts--those with 501 or more employees. Sixty-one percent sawincreases in the 6-15 percent range, with 31 percent in the 6-10percent range and 30 percent in the 11-15 percent range.

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High increases were reported, particularly for medium accounts,across all regions. Increases of 11-15 percent were reported for 38percent of medium accounts in the Northeast; 41 percent of mediumaccounts in the Southeast; 71 percent of medium accounts in theMidwest; 79 percent of medium accounts in the Pacific Northwest;and 50 percent of medium accounts in the Southwest.

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"Members still saw premium increases for their clients, which isfrustrating for them," said Ken A. Crerar, president of The CIAB."There is no question that the services of brokers have been inhigh demand since the passage of health care reform, and many areconcerned about the lack of flexibility among carriers. There is alot of confusion due to the slow or prolonged implementationschedule."

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According to the survey, as small, medium and large employershave started shifting some costs to employees through higherdeductibles and co-pays and increased employee shares of premiumcosts. Some employers also limited out-of-network options in anattempt to control the cost of group medical plans. The surveyindicated that 96 percent of employee benefits consultants are"concerned" or "very concerned" that health care reform willnegatively impact their group benefits revenue.

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Most benefits consultants reported little or no change in grouplife insurance renewal rates. For 11 percent of small accounts,rates were down 1 to 5 percent, but 50 percent of accounts had nochange. For medium accounts, 20 percent were down 1 to 5 percent,and another 40 percent reported no change. For large accounts, 19percent were down 6 to 10 percent and 35 percent reported nochange.

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