A new report from America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) says that health insurance premiums are growing at a reduced rate, despite increased use and higher costs, while health insurance plans' efforts are easing drug cost increases. The study found that premiums rose 8.8% between 2004 and 2005, which is 36% lower than the 13.7% increase in a similar report from 2002. Higher use accounted for 43% of the rise, fueled by factors such as increased consumer demand, new and more intensive medical treatments and defensive medicine, as well as by aging and unhealthy lifestyles. Price increases in excess of inflation accounted for 30% of the rise and were impacted by movement among purchasers to broader-access health plans, provider consolidation, increased labor costs, and higher priced technologies.

Prescription drugs accounted for 16 cents of the premium dollar, and drug spending increased by 8.6%, which is lower than the double-digit jump of recent years. The report credited health insurance plans' prescription benefit tools and techniques with helping to slow drug spending.

The study, titled “The Factors Fueling Rising Healthcare Costs 2006,” was prepared for AHIP by Pricewaterhouse-Coopers. www.ahip.org.